SM pic

Slaughters not bowing to peer pressure, yet.


Slaughter and May has defended its cautious approach to NQ pay to associates, as it's leapfrogged by Hogan Lovells.

While the rest of the Magic Circle all upped NQ pay from £125k to £150k last month, Slaughter and May has yet to match them. The firm was also the slowest to copy its Magic Circle rivals in the previous round of pay rises, taking until November 2023 to confirm it would pay NQs £125k; some 18 months after Freshfields had raised to that salary figure.   

In an Associate Forum, Managing Partner Deborah Finkler has defended the current stance on pay, where she told associates it was wrong to view Slaughter and May as competing with the likes of the other Magic Circle firms, because its model was very different. 

The managing partner explained that the Slaughters' model diverges in two key areas: she highlighted the associate lockstep which means that Slaughters associates are paid the same in every band, across departments (eg. a 3PQE in corporate is paid the same as their litigation peer), and pointed out that there are no billable hours targets at the firm. 

Finkler stressed that if Slaughters is expected to behave like other Magic Circle firms when it comes to matching salaries, then the firm would need to make changes to at least one of these areas, sources said. But that is not what the culture is based on, she explained.

One Slaughters associate wasn't buying it and told RollOnFriday it was "a huge kick in the teeth" that the firm had not yet matched the giant £150k wage for NQs available at competitors. 

This morning the firm sought to reassure associates, telling them that "We have been closely monitoring the decisions by a number of firms to increase headline NQ salaries" and that "We take remuneration very seriously and it is important that our approach to associate pay reflects and reinforces our values, allows us to attract and retain the best talent and ensures that we maintain our culture of excellence and collegiality in all parts of the firm".

"With this in mind, we are carefully considering our position and will let you know as soon as a decision has been reached", it said, while also announcing that trainee salaries were being increased, from £50 to £56k in year one and from £56k to £61k in year two.

In this year's RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey, there were mixed comments on salary at Slaughters. “£158k for 4PQE is a lot of money by any metric”, said one lawyer at the firm. “We're clearly miles off from BigLaw, but we've broadly kept up with the Magic Circle, and I'm glad not to be working for an American M&A factory (even if the hours probably aren't wildly different during the crunch times)”.

“Objectively no-one sensible can complain (though many do), but for a loaded firm to always be the last to increase pay takes away any feeling of being valued”, countered a junior solicitor at the Magic Circle firm.

The firm has said that its previous cautious approach to pay rises was intended to give it time to solve one of the most pressing issues resulting from the NQ pay war - pay bunching at higher levels, which has led to a great deal of dissatisfaction among solicitors at many of the largest firms.

Slaughters said in 2022 that it had to address compression "by creating a wider spread between the top and bottom PQE ranges." So presumably in considering whether to raise NQ salary, Slaughters also has to think about the impact on wages at higher bands as well.

As for the non-billable targets at Slaughters, that doesn't mean that most associates will be clocking off at 5.30pm on the dot, every day. There were differing views in the survey about work/life balance at the firm, ranging from "the hours are unbelievably good" to "being f***ed over". One junior lawyer said that "the lack of billables is excellent - no stress as to whether you are achieving targets for the purpose of bonuses or promotion", but "it goes without saying that if you are a prospective partner, you will be busy enough". 

Meanwhile, Hogan Lovells has leapfrogged over Slaughter and May, by hiking the base salary for its NQs from £120k to £135k in London, with effect from 1st May. The firm has also increased its London trainee salaries from £50,000 to £56,000 (year 1) and from £55,000 to £61,000 (year 2). HogLove NQs in Birmingham also receive a pay rise from £75k to £85k. Sidley Austin also raised NQ pay, in the second hike since January, to £175k.

When asked, Hogan Lovells would not reveal any salary details for associate bands, other than NQ. It's become the norm for many firms to announce their headline grabbing NQ pay rises, without revealing salary at other bands; with some keeping schtum in order to hide salary bunching higher up the chain.     


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Comments

US associate 14 June 24 08:34

S&M associates are literally slaughtered and dismayed by any measure but they may not think so given 80%+ of the employees come from old money and Oxbridge educated.

anon-y-mouse 14 June 24 09:06

The youth of today are in such a rush to give almost half of their pay packet to HMRC...

Anonymous 14 June 24 09:12

‘The firm has said that its previous cautious approach to pay rises was intended to give it time to solve one of the most pressing issues resulting from the NQ pay war - pay bunching at higher levels’

… which it has solved by horrific bunching at the NQ to 1.5 PQE levels and which it is clearly in no rush to rectify…

VeganAddleshawsPartner 14 June 24 09:29

At Addleshaws, we understand that true prestige and excellence cannot be bought with hasty salary hikes. Unlike firms like Slaughter and May, with their timid approach to pay, or Hogan Lovells, with their headline-grabbing but hollow raises, we cultivate an environment where our associates thrive on merit, integrity, and meaningful professional development. 

Our partners never stoop to mere financial incentives because we know that real value lies in unwavering dedication to superior legal practice and an impeccable ethical standard. It's not just about the money at Addleshaws—it's about embodying the pinnacle of legal excellence.

SM Associate 14 June 24 09:29

Deborah has managed this terribly. Morale is low, bunching is bad and it’s like talking to a brick wall in the Associate Forum meetings. 

SM Associate 14 June 24 09:45

The email from Deborah very tellingly references 'headline NQ salaries'. It is quite clear how the partners view this issue...

FBD Associate 14 June 24 09:55

The managing partner explained that the Slaughters' model diverges in two key areas: she highlighted the associate lockstep which means that Slaughters associates are paid the same in every band, across departments (eg. a 3PQE in corporate is paid the same as their litigation peer), and pointed out that there are no billable hours targets at the firm. 

Lol this is exactly the same at FBD...

Anon 14 June 24 09:55

Rumours are that Travis Smith and Macfarlane will be increasing to £220k in August, in a power play which will see the SC leapfrogging their MC counterparts. I’ve also heard talk of a potential merger between Ince Gordon Dadds and a little known outfit called DWF(M). Plexus and Keoghs hot on the tails of the MC players too in terms of salary hikes. All to play for. 

Anon 14 June 24 09:56

The salary bunching is a joke in the city but its worse in some firms than others.  My firm gets close to the MC headline rates but a colleague at 4PQE moved to Slaughter's last year and immediately matched by 8PQE salary...  

There is I suspect a generation of lawyers that entered the profession at the back end of the financial crisis who:

a) had a rough ride getting a TC;

b) saw modest/sensible NQ salaries (the MC NQ salaries have effectively doubled in 7 years)

c) are getting shafted by salary bunching

d) are seeing partnership become an ever more unobtainable target.

No doubt we will got back to a glut of partner promotions in 5-10 years time as firms realise they've done insufficienct work on retirement planning and those people who should be junior partners building a business now are instead being put kept on the hook with low pay being placated with the dangling carrot of "oh look you're so close, we definitely won't move the goalposts again"

Anonymous 14 June 24 09:58

One Slaughters associate wasn't buying it and told RollOnFriday it was "a huge kick in the teeth"

It's only June, but we may have found this year's winner of the Most Entitled Little Pimply Twerp award.

The idea that not getting your, already absurd, £125k bumped up to £150k despite doing absolutely nothing different is somehow a 'kick in the teeth' is real off the charts levels of entitlement.

Anonymous 14 June 24 09:58

Hi S&M NQs! 

You are currently of no practical value (you have no experience; no in-depth knowledge - this will change in 12-18 months). So £125k is a pretty fair pay offer. 

The fact the rest of the MC have, to be frank, lost their minds on this point, is no reason to blindly copy them.

SM Associate 14 June 24 10:03

The trade off for no billable hours targets is already there via significantly lower bonuses than other MCs.

anon 14 June 24 10:21

Really dumb. You know you're going to raise, and delaying it only harms your reputation and morale. Utterly pointless.

anon 14 June 24 10:23

A firm with $3.6 million profits per partner, the most of any magic circle firm, delaying raises.

 

Oh wait, I guess that's how they have the highest profits per partner -- they overwork and otherwise f*ck over associates. 

SM Associate 14 June 24 10:23

I see a couple SM partners have spent this morning making some comments on this article…

anon 14 June 24 10:29

"You are currently of no practical value (you have no experience; no in-depth knowledge - this will change in 12-18 months). So £125k is a pretty fair pay offer. "

Law is grunt work, tedious grunt work, discovery, searching for cases, writing motions, revising deal docs, due diligence ... and ALL of that work is done by junior attorneys. The people who have no actual value are the partners who get gigantic sales commissions for merely picking up the phone when someone wants to hire a lawyer.

"slaughter?" 14 June 24 10:31

Off topic but does anyone find the name "slaughter" disturbing?

Honestly, how is it different than [“Murder and May”] or "Stab and May?"

Anon 14 June 24 10:35

Be quiet associates and just consider yourselves  to be  lucky to be allowed to breathe in the unique and rarified air of Bunhill Row.   Such things as wanting to be paid the same as others round the corner doing the same work, same hours, for the same clients in the same city in the same market sectors by people who have the same academic background and abilities really are undignified, unseemly and distracting.  

MCNonny 14 June 24 10:39

Err, Linklaters has no billable hours targets and has a salary lockstep across all of London. What are Slaughters smoking???

To the 1.5 PQE Slaughters junior @ 09.12 14 June 24 10:49

Chuckling at your reference to bunching from “NQ to 1.5 PQE levels”. Presumably only several intra-year salary raises can appropriately reflect your vastly increased experience from one month to the next.
Please let us know whether there is still bunching as you progress from a lowly 1.92 (23 mos) PQE to the lofty heights of 2 full PQE years. It would be deeply unfair if so, you may even know arse from elbow by then. 

VeganAddleshawsPartner 14 June 24 10:55

@Blah - 

Grow up… at Addleshaws, we understand that excellence can be hard for some to stomach. Out of curiosity, where do you work? It's clear that our commitment to integrity and professional value might be a bit too refined for your taste.

Anonymous 14 June 24 09:58 14 June 24 11:02

Yet they're probably billing 1-1.5m a year. 

 

Suddenly they look underpaid, not overpaid. 

Anon 14 June 24 11:53

"No billable hours targets" is this firm's answer to everything as if somehow they think it means there is no pressure or expectation on, or review and consideration of, billable hours being recorded and the fee income an associate is bringing in.  

 

Anon 14 June 24 12:22

It's a pretty straightforward economics problem.  S&M hasn't been growing - it's smaller than it was a decade ago; it has no international capacity; it is nowhere in PE and its public M&A function is being eaten by US firms.  BUT it's still a brilliant firm, doing amazing work and the training is the best  (see the number of alumni at the top of other firms).  As a result, it doesn't need to pay top dollar - you go there for the work, training and network and 99% leave because unless you are lucky and an S&M partner dies or retires, you're never going up.  So - there is no demand for people to stay and heaps of supply as where else would you want to start if you're bright and ambitious?

Slaughters 3PQE 14 June 24 13:14

Deborah’s argument fails because ANY associate at the other magic circle law firms is currently paid AT LEAST 150k, ie as much as a 3 PQE associate here. This is just base pay - ie excluding bonus (so billable hours are presumably irrelevant) and regardless of department differences or bunching (as presumably all NQs are paid 150k).  

And on bunching - Links increased pay by 25k for each PQE class, so there is clearly a way of avoiding this problem!

The crux of the issue (as someone else commented above) that this is a matter of competition: if SM feels people come anyway (and they do - especially Aussies, which still get paid more than in Australia), and if it can live with a few people living for the likes of Paul Weiss, then there’s no need to increase salaries.

But if the strategy doesn’t work out, I wonder whether they’ll realise before serious damage is done!

 

paper cuts 14 June 24 13:53

Hi S&M NQs!

You are currently of no practical value (you have no experience; no in-depth knowledge - this will change in 12-18 months). So £125k is a pretty fair pay offer.

The fact the rest of the MC have, to be frank, lost their minds on this point, is no reason to blindly copy them.

================

Endorse above - well said

Legal recruitment expert 14 June 24 16:28

This is a deeply concerning development. We all know there are two firms which lead the market on every metric - Slaughter & May, and Addleshaw Goddard. Neither of them are raising and leading the way as they normally do. I’ve heard there have been stealth layoffs at Friedfisher, and Olswang is sacking anyone born in the month of June. Hold onto your hats - the economy is about to tank 

Lady Nigella Faraage 15 June 24 14:17

The solution is to withdraw the visas from the ALL FOREIGN Australian and kiwi lawyers that don’t speak ENGLISH so there is more demand for the hardworking yeoman ENGLISH lawyers from DOWN THE PIT 

Oh wait we did that in 2008 and those FOREIGNERS are all much richer and happier than us….

 

Anon 15 June 24 16:31

I am not complaining for a second about the pay, it is objectively excellent, but the Managing Partner’s justifications here are pure gaslighting:

- Linklaters has lockstep associate pay up to 6PQE, pretty sure FBD do for a fair few years too

- We also have no billable hours target (sure there is an hours component to bonuses like many firms but that’s it), I’ve never understood why S&M think that is somehow a USP of their culture

Pooshits 15 June 24 18:48

Meanwhile, here at Shoosmiths, associate pay has been increased by two buttons, a pin and a sticky sweet found behind the sofa.

Anonymous 17 June 24 10:50

Slaughters has a shorter path to partnership (which is still pure lockstep), practically guaranteed bonuses, generous holidays and sabbaticals, no targets, smaller size, and is still the best name to have on your CV.

Is that too little to compensate for lagging pay rises?  At least they're offering something different.

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