From the minted, to the skint-ed
For a second year in a row, Sidley Austin has topped the chart for salary satisfaction.
"The pay is market leading," said one lawyer, "the fact pay goes up in September, three months earlier than other US law firms like Kirkland, is a massive perk often overlooked. Plus the more UK style comprehensive benefits makes it the most attractive pay packet I’ve seen in my hunt for roles."
Another lawyer agreed: "Best in the city after benefits and bonuses." While one junior described their pay packet as "Embarrassingly high."
The Top 10
Kirkland & Ellis (86%), a consistent podium finisher for salary in ROF surveys, came joint-second. "Exceptional pay, top of the crop, you’ll literally be rolling in cash 365 days a year," said one lawyer. "It is extraordinary," said a partner. One lawyer was grateful for the favourable dollar/sterling exchange rates working in their favour: "Thx Kwasi".
Also in joint-second, Debevoise & Plimpton (86%) staff were delighted with the firm's "excellent" pay. "Cravath scale with no hours threshold for bonuses is pretty exceptional," said a senior solicitor. Although one said: "Unfortunately because we’re tied to a fixed exchange rate I’ve had to postpone my annual Chanel bag purchase, but I think I’ll manage to survive".
Latham & Watkins (84%) came fourth. "Not a greedy person but the pay is life altering," said a partner. "Can’t complain about 50k at my age with the modest hours I’ve been doing," said a trainee. One senior lawyer revealed that they were on so much dough that they didn't want "further pay increases" as it would "come with an increased expectation as to work commitment and a propensity to attract and retain mercenary bell-ends."
In 5th equal was Ropes & Gray (80%). A lawyer said: "I earn (and have earned from first qualifying) more than any member of my family / any person with whom I grew up. I am extremely lucky."
Also in 5th equal was the first UK firm in the top 10, Burges Salmon (80%). "Given the work/life balance pay is very good and has been increased in view of recent cost of living increases," said a junior lawyer. "Very competitive salary and great bonus scheme for both lawyers and business professionals," said a business services member of staff.
At Trowers & Hamlins (79%), 7th equal, recent pay rises made the firm "extremely competitive in the regional markets whilst still maintaining a proper work life balance and friendly culture," said one lawyer.
Also 7th equal, a senior lawyer at Weil (79%) said "anyone who is unhappy" with pay "needs to take a good hard look at themselves."
Osborne Clarke (76%) placed 9th. "They are generous for business services" said one staffer, "they gave above average pay-rises to help with the cost of living". A senior lawyer said: "the last couple of years have seen decent pay increases" and "this year there was also a major revision of benefits, with a hefty increase in pension contributions, provided you upped your contributions."
Filling out the top 10, Hogan Lovells (75%) came joint-10th. "Not American-firm levels of pay, but tough to complain since we get to keep our souls," said a senior lawyer. Also in 10th spot, was Addleshaw Goddard (75%). A junior lawyer said they were pleased the firm had "upped pay in the North West," as it was "high time" that they "saw pay increases bringing them closer to London pay rates."
In the middle of the pack, a common grumble was from staff who believed their firms hadn't given sufficient consideration to inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.
"Consistent raises, but not in keeping with inflation," said a business services member of staff at Macfarlanes (68%).
"Unlike many other firms, business service staff received no cost of living/inflation bonuses in 2022," said a Shearman & Sterling (74%) respondent, adding, "yet at the same time, you see the lawyers' salaries increase and increase." At Pinsent Masons (59%) a business services member of staff bemoaned the "lack of cost of living pay-rises."
Another common gripe was against firms recording huge profits which didn't trickle down to staff, and fed into an 'us versus them' culture. "It’s crazy to hear there is no money in the pot to give support staff a pay rise, but partners got a million pound bonus, they just don’t care about anyone below partner level," said a junior lawyer at Eversheds Sutherland (52%).
A senior lawyer at TLT (58%) said: "partner profits have accelerated, which has been in no small part down to the general tightness of the firm when it comes to salaries, despite increased client expectations that come with working with bigger clients."
While at Allen & Overy (51%) "management's pay freeze for associates whilst partner profits went up again went down like a cup of cold sick on Christmas morning."
A DAC Beachcroft (58%) lawyer reported that "the firm's partners expect to earn the same PEP as similar sized firms as if their clients are paying twice/thrice as much per hour. The result is the staff feel the squeeze because...well, why should the members?"
"Probably like most firms they pay us 'just enough' to keep us, but at the same time scrape massive profits off the top for the senior equity," said a Mishcon de Reya (60%) senior lawyer.
"Despite being the most profitable UK Firm in the country, business services are consistently underpaid," said a business services member of staff at Slaughter and May (54%). "They don't exactly put 'Morlock' on our business cards, but it's hard not to feel like one, particularly when they are giving the lawyers twice yearly pay rises and cracking bonuses."
The bottom firms
DWF placed joint-50th with 47%. "The wage has not met the cost-of-living crisis and offers no overtime hours to be able to work up affordable living," said a paralegal.
"The big bosses took enormous bonuses and told everyone else there wasn’t enough money in the pot to pay any bonuses out," said a partner.
Also in joint-50th was Dentons (47%). "Regional pay is poor compared with other firms, even compared with other regional firms which don’t have Dentons’ global reach", said a junior lawyer.
"Jump from NQ to 1 PQE is £2k...I was expecting more," reported another lawyer.
"Business services pay is as low as they can get away with," said one member of staff. "We are often 6-12 months behind market trends due to they way salaries are looked at so when people leave, it tends to be a mad scramble to get a counter-offer to them although by that time it is too late."
Clyde & Co (39%) came 52nd. "Post 5 years pay is laughable," said a senior lawyer, "partners seem to be believe that associates believe the nonsense fed to them about the non-existent carrot."
A business services member of staff said their salary "is not representative of the work and value I provide to the firm" resulting in it being "difficult to get motivated."
A junior lawyer said: "The pay is far below our competitors, which would be fine if I was working fewer hours, but I do not feel like I am being compensated (at least at market rate) for my time and effort".
Knights (33%) came 53rd. "Pay remains stubbornly low," said a partner. "I never wanted to turn my heating on this winter anyway!" commented a junior lawyer.
Squire Patton Boggs came 54th with 27%. "Way below market and on my way out. At least three people from my team to follow," said one lawyer. Another said: "There's always an excuse for a minimal pay increase. NQ's have been bumped for the headlines - but once you get suckered in, you realise that you get tiny incremental increases for the rest of your career".
At Capsticks (26%) in joint-55th, "Pay is set by management in London and ignores both regional differences and demands for specialisms," said a senior lawyer.
"The regional pay variation is increasingly unsustainable," said a junior lawyer, "i.e. if you WFH but you’re not 'based' at the London office, the firm will pay you less, even though you do exactly the same work from your bedroom WFH."
"Pay would be competitive if the firm allowed fee-earners to maintain a decent work life balance but that has not been paying off in recent years either," opined another.
Golden Turd recipient, BCLP (26%), placed 55th. "Pay freeze for Business Services staff, told just before Christmas was poor form," said one respondent. Another Business Services member of staff said: "I worked so hard this year. Working overtime, working whilst ill, hitting all my objectives. And in the end, it didn’t mean anything."
Keoghs (25%) took the last spot. "It’s a joke. I earn about the same as an NQ at Kennedys," said a partner. "All I can say is that I’m seriously considering 'Only Fans' as a way of making ends meet," said a paralegal.
"2% pay rises is as good as it gets," said a senior lawyer. "For many even beating targets year in year out means you still get nothing if you are deemed top of your grade. Staff leaving, can’t recruit and then they moan about figures."
One lawyer summarised their view of the situation at Keoghs: "You pay peanuts, you get…"
At least the firm may have an ignominious award to put in its trophy cabinet now.