dont be greedy

An MC lawyer going for that bonus.

As your last chance approaches to propel your firm towards the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2021 trophy or the Golden Turd, the competition is neck and neck in the Magic Circle.

Respondents at all five elite firms agree their pay lags behind peers at US firms, but it has its benefits, says a junior solicitor at Allen & Overy. Their American cousins "create the welcome upward pressure, and the MC firms are realising that failing to keep up hurts their brand".    

"Let's be honest, I am remarkably well paid, and got a chunky bonus to boot", says a Clifford Chance junior solicitor.  Moaning "'Oh I don't get paid as much as someone at Lathams!'" is "a specious complaint", he says.  

But while there is an understanding that covid may have justified freezes, the sympathy is wearing off. "They might think they are paying enough to retain us", says a senior solicitor at Linklaters, "and in this market they are probably right, but I have certainly taken my foot off the gas as a direct result. You get what you pay for, after all".    

She adds, "Now that it's clear that we've stayed extremely busy the whole time, and the partners will still earn their millions this year, there is a bit of a feeling (following US pay rises) that they've used it as an excuse to pause the pay war amongst the MC, started by Freshfields, that they didn't want to be a part of anyway".

Slaughter and May is "Liverpool paying like Everton" says a solicitor there. "Not progressing people through the pay bands when their PQE increases, I could live with on a temporary basis when the cash crunch of last spring hit the firm", says another Slaughters solicitor, but not "locking that in for a full year", particularly given "Some unguarded conversations between partners hinting at the fact that this year is looking like we are breaking records - and they have topped that off with increased profit margins on their workforce".  

Although another Slaughter and May lawyer concedes that "getting paid 100k with a good bonus for no hourly hours target is a pretty sweet deal".  

There is also common ground around the perilous Magic Circle partnership track. "I've got more chance of getting free tango classes off the Taliban than I have of making partner", says a Slaughters senior solicitor.     

"True progression (I.e. how to get the p-badge) is still shrouded in opaque mystery, like a less exciting, but more valuable, version of Merlin's woollen winter cloak", agrees a senior solicitor at Clifford Chance.

But lawyers in the MC are also agreed on big positives about their firms, and praise the standard of their work.

A Freshfields trainee says it is all as advertised, and the associates are "so continually shafted that they are desperate to give as much responsibility out as soon as they find a half-competent trainee, so you can end up with a fair amount of varied work".

"The quality of work I have access to is spectacular", says a junior solicitor at Clifford Chance, while another at Links chimes in that the training is "excellent, and the work is second to none".

On work life balance, "We work hard", but, "We do not play hard because there is not much time to play", says a Clifford Chance lawyer. And while the "pandemic has been brutally busy", at least "If I have a particularly grim week or two, I'll sometimes get given a day off in lieu, or a case of wine".

In fact a cigarette paper can't slip between the firms at the moment. So if you're at one of them - or want to get your firm in front of them - vote below.

Tip Off ROF


lol 15 January 21 09:36

I don't understand the mentality of the Clifford Chance junior re: comparing to Latham pay.  Why would it be a "specious compliant" for somebody doing the same job but earning approx. £40k less per year to wonder why they are so undervalued compared to employees at their competitors? 

Anon 15 January 21 09:40

Because it allows them to rationalise a situation in their minds that would otherwise make them unhappy.  

Anonymous 15 January 21 09:48

Boo hoo. But I could get more money if I went to a hypothetical American firm! Sob sob, why don't the partners recognise my unique genius. It's so unfair that they keep treating me as if I'm an entirely replaceable cog, and that they only pony up £100k a year for my incredible skills and wisdom. Why do they insist on trousering the profits of their business for themselves instead of handing them out to generic junior associates.

Genuinely refreshing to hear something other than the above from Magic Circle employees - well done RoF for finding a couple of sane self-aware ones to respond to the survey!

Anon 15 January 21 09:54

If you don’t like it, leave and show that you’re worth more.  Or accept it.  

These firms aren’t going to change their pay structure because of whinging about pay.  The whole model is to exploit associates to make as much money as possible for the partners (who themselves are put out to pasture in their late 50s or early 60s) whilst paying the associates the minimum to keep them there.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these firms are anything more than the equity partners - other than a few who might be needed to replace outgoing partners, or who can bring in work to make yet more money for the other partners, everyone else, without exception, is expendable and just passing through.   

Anonymous 15 January 21 10:17

@lol - If they could earn more at a competitor then they should go earn more at a competitor. Not sit on their arse complaining to RoF about pay at other firms they could hypothetically apply to.

If they really think that they are worth £40k more, then all that these self-described 'top legal minds' have to do is pick up the phone to a recruiter (or their intended firm's HR department) and say that they would like to move. Then, if they are actually worth £40k more, they will have a new job that pays them that money within approximately 12 weeks.

But instead they bitch and complain on the internet about how they could totally be earning more money at some other firm and that their bosses need to cough up extra cash to reward them because of that. Despite being too lazy/stupid/timid to actually do anything to force their hand.

Seriously, if anyone thinks they could be earning more at another firm, then they should just go earn more at that firm. If you haven't done that it's because you can't, so you don't deserve the money.

Anonymous 15 January 21 11:06

The associates should try being in business services in the increasing number of firms reinstating pay rises for lawyers but not business services. With both revenue and margin up it means business services cost control is going straight into the pockets of lawyers and partners.

This doesn't square at all with all the messages earlier in the pandemic about all being in it together. 

Sure, we're happy to have jobs - especially when you look at the cuts at NRF. But when you're working until 1am every night after home schooling the kids for 5 hours during the day and under extraordinary stress it sure as hell does not feel nice. 

Anon 15 January 21 11:08

Whilst I agree that anyone who isn't happy about their pay has the option of leaving I am not sure framing around 'worth' is all that accurate or helpful. 

Also, a bit tired of the argument 'if you don't like it - leave'. When you are at a firm a lot of ppl want it to succeed/improve and part of that for some is the pay (eg if you are at an MC firm) or PSL support (if you are at a US firm) or lack of your firm's ambition (if you are at a smaller firm) and so on. Wanting your firm to address the things you think they are not doing well is not a bad thing, it is a good thing.

Realist 15 January 21 11:24


Yes it would be nice  - but these Firms don’t care about that.  They don’t exist to increase happiness and fairness in the world.  They exist to make as much money as possible for the equity partners.  

Anonymous 15 January 21 11:38

@11:06 - Yes. You should be happy to have job. Quite right.

You don't generate any revenue, so you can't complain that the revenue generators are paying themselves first from their own revenues before cranking up your wages (despite your actual output remaining the same).

Like the grumpy associates, if you think you are worth more then you can move to somewhere that appreciates your unique gifts. 

But don't be surprised if your firm replaces you overnight with someone with equal skills and a lower propensity to complain about having a job that pays them just as well as it always has. To nobody's surprise but your own, you may turn out to be generic replaceable cog.

Anonymous 15 January 21 11:40

@11:08 - stop being silly. Those complainers aren't trying to improve their firms, they're just begging for more money for themselves.

If they want to improve their own firms so that revenues increase (and hopefully with it salaries) then they should just get on and do that. Bitching that they aren't getting random pay rises in the interim doesn't help that.

Anonymous 15 January 21 12:32

@11.38 - hey I'm just saying how I feel looking at an 14% hike in collections and 37% increase in the profit margin for the year so far. I'm certainly not saying us non-producer skivvies deserve a single penny or cent of that, or displaying any misguided belief that the facts care about my personal feelings, or that I have any special gifts. Or even that I wish to leave.  

I do think that you rather took my comment about a disconnect between messages from management just a few months ago with current reality during a very challenging lockdown for me personally and ran with it into some mean-spirited little projection of your own. That's your prerogative and you are of course free to troll if you get something out of it, whatever that might be. Comes off a little insecure though, I must say.  

Anonymoose 15 January 21 12:32

There are reasons to want to work at CC, or FBD, or A&O, than at LW or KE.  For example, in certain practice areas the quality of work will be much better.  In certain teams, the culture may be much better.  You may like what you do and who you do it for, and why risk it to potentially be miserable at an American firm for a few extra quid (much of which would be lost in tax anyway).  Would it really improve your quality of life that significantly to be putting an extra 1k a month into your ISA?  

Non mc nonnie 15 January 21 12:39

Tbf though I like to hear associates whine about workload and pay because it reminds me that I’m happier with less work and pay 

but if a rich associate wants a gf hmu. I’ll listen to you whinge and pretend I care if you buy me an R8 

US associate 15 January 21 12:49

The Magic Circle firms will never compete with US firms:

- US clients prefer law firms which can act globally for them (particularly with the growth in international regulatory and prosecutorial coordination and cooperation). 

- English firms have been notoriously unsuccessful penetrating the US, and New York in particular, markets. US clients therefore prefer US firms. (English firms also don't have name recognition in the US.)

- US clients are more willing to pay higher legal fees overall, and they do. This is particularly the case for litigation and arbitration. One might objectively deprecate the USA's culture of litigation, but it is profitable :)

- US firms don't indulge the touchy-feely, wishy-washy, namby-pamby, soft-hearted, soft-headed nonsense that "all our staff are equally valuable", because it's simply untrue. They pay far lower salaries to fungible, replaceable support staff with limited skill sets and low barriers to entry for their replacements. This releases more money to pay fee earners.

- US firms don't have Rolls Royce cultures such as: their own restaurants, regular client functions, elaborate catering both for those client functions and even catering for internal training sessions, vast IT teams and resources, etc. This also releases more money to pay fee earners.

- The Magic Circle firms are full service, whereas US firms cherry pick the most profitable practice areas (and clients). Full service firms necessarily cross-subsidise less profitable practice areas, which drags down remuneration.

- US firms are pretty brutal at all levels: if NQs don't perform in their first 6 months, they're gone. Likewise for more senior lateral hires, and even senior associates if partnership isn't looking likely.

- US associates know that we're paid more and therefore we're expected to be available 7 days/week, including while on holiday (not necessarily for lengthy, substantive work, but certainly to address queries, etc.). I've never turned on my out of office reply, except when I was on a remote trip away from mobile phone signals. This enables us to have smaller teams, and thus do more work with fewer people: no one is ever really on holiday.

- US associates expect to work longer hours: we're paid more money than Croesus. Some may regard this as a Faustian pact, but it's clear on the face of it what we're signing up for, and it's a personal choice.

 - The Magic Circle firms are huge and the US firms are smaller. There simply aren't the opportunities for more than a certain % of Magic Circle associates to move, so Magic Circle firms don't need to match US firms' salaries - most of their associates can't move. (I'm not even arguing that the best associates leave Magic Circle firms, simply that numerically, only a small % can have the opportunity, entirely independently of merit.)

I'm not criticising Magic Circle firms here, far from it. I trained at one, before moving on qualification, and I liked both the firm and everyone who I worked with. I just don't think that they're comparable. That's not a value judgment: London needs full service firms which do a wide range of work, including less profitable work. The focus on PEP and associate salaries should not be the myoptic obsession which it has become.

Finally, just as I don't criticise those who choose to prioritise having kids, and domestic bliss etc. because that's personal choice, I don't regard as reasonable those who criticise those of us who aspire to bill c2,500 hours/year. There's room for everyone, there doesn't need to be a template from which those who deviate are excoriated (whether for 'not working hard enough', or working 'too hard'). 

Mountain 15 January 21 12:55

> at an American firm for a few extra quid (much of which would be lost in tax anyway)

That's an excellent point, and one which is often overlooked. There is a point of diminishing returns with income generally and particularly in this country with our eye-watering tax rates over £40k.



Anon 15 January 21 13:03

@11:38 Law is increasingly becoming a sophisticated business. There is more and more overlap with tech and consulting in parts to deliver services and more leveraging of data and analytics and process improvements to eek out incremental gains. Its not a big bang but there is a clear trend. To really succeed in this evolving environment you cannot only have the best lawyers. Top talent in bus services help the firm generate more money, more efficiently, which should benefit everyone.  Sure, you might get away with not increasing salaries with the job market as it is right now but is that a sensible long term strategic move? Many in Bus services see all the data and know that many of the big US and MC law firms are performing very well and know that they've bent their back to help this year. A failure to acknowledge that will mean talent jumps when job market picks up 6-12 months down the line.  

Anonymous 15 January 21 13:24

Lol at the “few extra quid” comments. I have just finished my 6th year at a large US firm in London and took home $505k after bonus this year (I’m not in cap markets, so not COLA uplift in that).

My point is not that I’m a straight up baller, but that the comments about US firms paying a bit more than MC are off base. The top US firms in London are paying double the Magic Circle rate to more senior associates and at least for me that is well worth the extra 300 hours or so of billables.

The simple fact is that a lot of people in the Magic Circle are indoctrinated from day 1 that the US firms offer poor quality work with no career progression. That may have been true 10 years ago but it hasn’t been the case for a long time, particularly in banking where the U.K. firms can’t compete on the biggest deals because they lack reputable bond teams.

Anonymoose 15 January 21 16:29

@ 13:24

Yes, that's fine - if you are a finance lawyer, you are likely better off at Lathams or Kirklands than AO.  You will probably work similar hours, and earn a lot more money.  Though, note, Lathams and  Kirklands don't recruit that many associates - so even great assocs might be 'stuck' at the Magic Circle (oh the horror, let's start a GoFundMe). 

If you are a pensions lawyer, or tax lawyer, or antitrust lawyer, or a public M&A lawyer, you may well find the work a lot better at the MC.  Plus I doubt a 6 PQE antitrust lawyer at an American firm is raking in 505k USD a year.

Anon 16 January 21 10:48

How easy is it, in today's market, to jump from SC/MC to a top US firm if you're in a transactional seat? 

The value of a life 17 January 21 13:37

Is there a lack of perspective here?  How many people outside the financial services bubble in London earn six figures before they are 30?  

It's not like associates have entrepreneurial skills or risks, or are saving the planet.  A mid-level associate can earn more than a cabinet minister, judge or headteacher. 

Anon 20 January 21 07:05

@ 10.48. You’d be surprised. I’m a senior associate at a US firm and despite the ridiculous pay, we are hardly inundated with high quality applicants for lateral roles. We end up training up uncut gems rather than hiring the finished article. Put your CV in.

lol 20 January 21 15:52

@13:37 - yeah, and the partners that they work for earn >£3m a year in a lot of cases (in elite US firms).  What's your point? 

Anon 21 January 21 17:46

Agree with the overall sentiment that a MC lawyer has no grounds to complain but what has changed significantly in the last five years is expectations at MC firms. If you were in a technical, albeit still financial, area at a MC firm you could bash out somewhere around 90 - 100% busyness and enjoy your holidays. To me that always seemed like a decent trade off and I'd happily forgo the significant amount of extra money for uninterrupted time off. 

Now the direct competitors are the US firms much more regularly than UK firms and the internal PEP target and client demands for 24/7 responsiveness are much higher. As a result there has been a big ramp up in expectations without any commensurate rise in pay. Someone above mentioned holidays - I took one just before Tier 3 came in and billed at least 4 hours every day of my two week holiday and worked weekends too.  So given how hard partnership is to achieve, things look less appealing than they once did. Having said that in the next five years there's a lot of MC partners due for retirement. So things might shift again which is the thing people are weighing up when considering the jump. 

Anon 22 January 21 08:31

Working in private practice is simply a miserable existence. Glad I left years ago and I will never go back.

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