Newly-qualified solicitors are discovering that firms have taken very different lines on the pandemic. Final seat trainees at Leeds firm Walker Morris are going to be kept on their trainee salary of £29,000 when they qualify in September, RollOnFriday understands. But NQs at the London branch of US firm Ropes & Gray have been told there will be no reductions for them - and they will start on £130,000 plus bonus.
A number of firms, including the Magic Circle, have reduced their NQ salary to save money as part of a package of measures to stave off the anticipated financial impact of the coronavirus. But Walker Morris has gone further and decided not to raise salaries at all for its trainees when they qualify as solicitors, sources said. The firm has said it is intended to be a two month deferral.
The affected lawyers, who were part of the firm's 18-strong 2018 cohort, its largest ever, were expected to be paid £44,000 from September. But this week they were told that they will remain on their second year trainee salaries of £29,000 instead, said insiders.
Hopefully Walker Morris NQs can still get their deposits back.
Walker Morris set the precedent in June when it told its current first year trainees that their salaries would be frozen at £27,000 until November at the earliest, and furloughed some of them.
"Whilst this is disappointing for you, I know you understand the reasons for this and I am very grateful for your support in these difficult times", management told the first year trainees in June. Walker Morris did not initially respond to a request for comment.
The belt-tightening in Leeds contrasts with the approach taken by Ropes & Gray. It has made no cuts to its staggering pay for NQs announced in February, and will pay each of its five qualifying trainees £130,000 - plus bonus. The firm was coy about how big the bonuses would be, but if it is double figures the new solicitors should be able to preserve a six figure salary while hiring a Walker Morris NQ, with a payrise, to work as their assistant.
Update: A spokesperson for Walker Morris commented after publication: “We have retained 16 NQ positions available to our 18 qualifying trainees - one of our largest cohorts ever – which reaffirms our position as one of the largest legal graduate recruiters in the city”.
“Whilst we continue to invest in our trainees and newly qualified solicitors, we have delayed our NQ pay rise for two months. Our aim is to be consistent and fair with everybody in the firm, regardless of role or seniority. We have deferred all pay reviews – for all partners (who have also agreed to defer distributions) and staff – until November and we've been pleased with the level of support we have had, which is precisely because we have taken an absolutely consistent approach in response to the extraordinary circumstances we currently face.
Our aim, which has been communicated to all staff is to award pay reviews in November and to avoid job losses. We have worked hard to build our fantastic teams and we want to keep them together.”