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.


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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.”

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Comments

Rex Kwon Do 17 July 20 09:28

27k for an NQ in Leeds isn't terrible. There'll be plenty more dolla down the road if they want to chase that. What's the average wage in Leeds anyway?

old lag 17 July 20 10:13

The extra 100k isn't worth it for all the crap you'd have to take from in that sort of white collar sweatshop

Anonymous 17 July 20 10:18

What a ridiculous headline.

The 2 firms are not comparable. They each have completely different types of clients and are in totally different areas.

I don't think an NQ is worth £130k but I do think they sign away their life at a firm like that and should be well compensated. As an example, my friend was a junior associate at a similar firm, working 15 hour days, 7 days a week. His dad got taken into hospital and was on his death bed. The partner wouldn't let him leave London to go to his dad until his workload was dealt with. His mindset was so messed up (which I completely blame on the firm's culture), that he stayed in London for a few more days to deal with the work.

Now would someone junior at Walker Morris have to do the same as the above? No.

Anon 17 July 20 10:50

Agree with above. NQs at US firms don't get paid a salary, they get paid compensation. 

 

Ano 17 July 20 11:20

I wonder if the PEP will be down or whether they’ve just pushed all of the pain onto juniors while pocketing furlough payments, sitting in their Ilkley mansions complaining about the tough times! 

Law grad 17 July 20 12:48

Cheap in Leeds though. That student pub with the huge beer garden did a roast for £4.50 or something. This was 20 years ago. More news as I get it. 

Anon 17 July 20 13:21

And what are the partners there drawing?  £80-200k?   So much for taking the risk and the burden of difficult times like many other firms.  

Anonymous 17 July 20 14:20

Waiting two months for a £16k pay rise doesn't sound all that terrible giving loads of the population are losing their jobs and dying.

 

Anon 17 July 20 15:40

If you think Walker Morris is the problem rather than Ropes & Gray, it's time to re-evaluate your understanding of the legal market.

Adam Smith 17 July 20 16:23

The definition of what something is worth is ultimately what someone else is prepared to pay for it in an open market.  

Clearly an NQ is worth what an employer is willing to pay them.  The reason US and top city firms pay so much is twofold.  One, it is the only way that 20 and 30 somethings will give up most of their lives and their free time, relationships and health. And secondly, it attracts the top talent and future potential partners at the junior end, who are then given 7-10 years to become partners and then binned if they are not up to it.  That’s the model.   

Anonymous 17 July 20 16:33

Blimey, I qualified in '04 at not much more than a High St outfit in the Midlands and was being paid similar to what WM's NQs are getting in 2020.

Anonymous 17 July 20 16:36

Just stop paying trainees and NQs massive salaries for doing naff all? £30k for an NQ in Leeds is plenty. £130k plus for an NQ in any city is crackers. 

Anon 17 July 20 19:20

Walker Morris is a high street firm in Leeds. Ropes & Gray is a leading US headquartered international law firm. Talking about them in the same breath is absurd.

Anonymous 17 July 20 22:08

It's not crackers. It's economics. Also, 29k is substantially lower than the average salary for a full-time employee in the UK (which stands at 35k).

Anon 18 July 20 08:43

“Unlawful deduction from wages?”

It’s not a deduction because they were never being paid the higher amount from which a deduction is made.   Unless they’ve signed contracts agreeing to pay the higher amount, it’s just a job offer.  Even if they have signed contracts, the firm would just serve notice on them if they enforced the term and I suspect they don’t have continuous employment carried over from TC so wouldn’t have have unfair dismissal rights.

Anonymous 19 July 20 11:36

So while Walker Morris' NQs toil on £29k, the firm's highest paid member received £823k in 2019 (up from £551k in 2017). We're all in this together, folks.

Anon 19 July 20 14:44

So how much do NQs at Ropes and Grey, Kirkland, Latham et al. get paid for bonuses in London?

Asking for a friend....

Oh dear 20 July 20 12:52

@Anonymous 17 July 20 10:18

I thought I worked quite hard when at WM but reading your comment has made me think... And you’re totally right, when I worked there it was 9-5, with an hour for lunch. All the international clients were super flexible and understanding of the fact they were instructing a “regional” firm, especially all the corporate ones being supported through hundred million pound plus deals. There were no demands on juniors, if something required doing then the partner would stay and do it...

All those late nights, worked weekends, missed family events, that cancelled holiday... must all be figments of my over active imagination... for which I beg your forgiveness...

Out of interest, did you learn about what life is like outside of the M25 from a book or the internet? 

 

 

 

Anonymous 20 July 20 15:06

The staggering thing from where I'm sitting (which, admittedly, as an insurance litigator isn't anywhere glamorous) is that second year trainees in Leeds are on £29k. As an NQ in Glasgow in 2014 I was on (an admittedly derisory) £28k, but two years later the same firm was only offering NQs £26k. As a second-year trainee in Edinburgh (a city that I can't imagine is any cheaper than Leeds, nice as Leeds is) I think I was on about £17k. Different stories on either side of the border, it would seem.

IM worse than WM 21 July 20 07:44

This is bad but not quite as bad as IM. Keeping on its NQs at 50% hours on 50% but not publicising this. Regional NQs will be on 20k, London on 30k... 

Anon 21 July 20 11:55

@oh dear.  
 

Sounds a bit chippy to me.   Why would you accept those hours for such little reward?   

Legal Recruiter 21 July 20 17:17

The woeful tale of UK Headquartered law firms

1. Get stuck in an NQ price war with the US firms who can outspend the UK market.

2. UK Law firms forced to reduce number of TC's and Associates in order to maintain profit margin.

3. Higher grade & extra-curricular standards brought in due to limited TC availability.

4. Higher standards favor students from wealthier economic backgrounds 

5. Less lower and middle class lawyers make it to the top of the profession. 

The end.

Anonymous 21 July 20 22:58

Well that’s depressing. Even before the firm-wide 10% pay cut due to covid-19 I was paid less as a 3 PQE Solicitor in a mid sized Birmingham firm than the WM NQs are meant to be paid... 
 

dimuendo 22 July 20 17:56

Tell the yank firms to go.   Blame it on Brexit.  Abolish all the various forms of legal entity ; go back to unlimited liability partnerships.   Maybe not 20, as used to be the case,but maximum of 100.

GBP 130,000 (plus bonus) for a newly qualified is very  clear evidence of huge overcharging, to justify the salary.  Even american capitalism should have its limits.

Anonymous 22 July 20 21:53

@ 22.58, 21 July.

While I normally enjoy crowing over the misfortunes of others, your post genuinely depressed me. If you're PQE+3 and earning less than £80k, you really ought to consider pursuing a different career. 

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