minted skinted

From the minted, to the skint-ed

Staff at US firm Sidley Austin (89%) are the happiest with their pay in UK private practice, the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At 2023 can reveal.

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."

pay chart

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.


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Tip Off ROF


Anonymous 10 February 23 09:39

Career tip: if you are unsatisfied with your pay, all things considered, you should move firms.


You only get one life and one career. Don't hang around if you're miffed. It's a laterals market.

Relativity girl 10 February 23 09:49

It is important for everyone to remember that the survey does not ask a question about the absolute level of pay.

It is about how happy you are with your pay.

One person might earn £100,000 a year and be very unhappy, and another person might earn £40,000 a year and be very happy as they work a lot fewer hours, no unsociable hours and feel that they have a hood, balanced quality of life. The cost of commuting and other factors also has a significant impact on how happy a person is with their overall pay. 

Having said that, some of the comments attributed to firms at the bottom end of the table are pretty shocking.



Anon 10 February 23 09:58

Just to point out - on the Macfarlanes comment - it used to be the case (when inflation was very low) that for 5PQE plus lawyers there were no pay bands per se and senior lawyers should expect pay rises "more in line with inflation" - that footnote got deleted from last years pay scale having been there for a good 5 plus years... can't imagine why!

Confused SM Associate 10 February 23 10:03

“Cracking bonuses” at the Slaughterhouse? No idea where they got that idea from… It barely covered the heating bill this Christmas. 

Harvest Morn 10 February 23 10:09

Hey Kellogg’s - if they won the silver turd would it end up in the bins in the loos like the other turds?

Relativity Boy 10 February 23 10:12

@Relativity Girl 9:49 You’re spot on. Addleshaws, The Shed and BCLP are all paying the majority of their lawyers more or less the same in both London and the north. This is just a reflection of what they’re actually paid against what they think they’re worth and what they have to put up with for the money.

The Trout 10 February 23 10:16

Pay at Debevoise has to be high to compensate for the strain of working with some of the vilest of the vile, both partners and associates.

One needs only look at the recent promotions round to see that bullying and incompetence are prized characteristics for advancement at that gulag.  



Ceefax 10 February 23 10:25

some rubbish insurance firm nobody 10 February 23 11:17

We need a pay to fees comparison. Some of these lower quartile firms are charging their associates out at nearly £1,000ph and paying them c£150,000.  

You do the math.  On an 80% recovery over 1800 hours that is literally extortionate. 

Keelover 10 February 23 11:44

Shocking result for the K, but not, actually. Terrible firm with terrible pay that mirrors the rates charged. We won some work last year by undercutting others and it’s staff who suffer as a result. Keoghs are however on the M6. In case you needed to know. 

Anon 10 February 23 11:52

Why are BCLP staff moaning about their salaries?! Based on the lack of actual revenue generating work in some teams compared to the salaries being paid, they should  be grateful to be still in employment! 

Anon 10 February 23 11:58

The Trout 10 February 23 10:16: the level of incompetence at the London office of Debevoise is staggering, especially at the senior end.

I’ve seen the light, Knight 10 February 23 12:28

Perhaps the low pay at Knights is a ploy to get the few who remain, who sit shivering at home too skint to put the heating on, back into the office. 

Or perhaps it’s because of spiraling debts, a falling share price and being as attractive as a shit sandwich to prospective candidates. 

Plexus rigged this 10 February 23 13:39

Plexus 22nd on pay. Very believable. It should obviously rank alongside Keoghs in all of these charts - pay in particular. 

Anonymous 10 February 23 13:48

"the level of incompetence at the London office of Debevoise is staggering, especially at the senior end"

It's almost as if a life of sleep-deprivation and chronic stress has but one inevitable outcome.


But then, once the inevitable breakdown occurs you can at least fall back on several million quid to spend on therapy, beach holidays, and bonking your suspiciously attractive au pair.

So it's swings and roundabouts really.

Bogg by name, bog by nature 10 February 23 14:01

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".

Leaving that gulag was the best thing I could've ever done. London office is the pits, constantly on the hunt for bodies to replace those who realised if they move next door they immediately gain £40k to their paypacket for the same hours.

Disgruntled employee 10 February 23 14:07

The issue with SPB is the lack of communication.  Pay reviews are two weeks over due and not a single communication about it yet management quick to tell employees to record all time or salary will be docked next year without the courtesy to update people on why they are still waiting for this years pay review.  No doubt they will still be behind competitors as always anyway.  I’ve heard a few people are waiting to get their  bonus then hand their notice in. 

Anonymous 10 February 23 14:12

@Relativity Boy 10:12 unsure where the figures come from on AG re: similar pay when the pay difference between London and NW is over 30k apart at NQ level (and there is then a difference between NW and Scotland on top of that of 7/8k).  

Lack of commentary around the lack of matching pay outside of London in the article is a surprise with many firms still paying differently across regions such as Bristol / NW / Scotland despite charge out rates now matching across those locations.  

Fly boy 10 February 23 14:45

Seriously, they cannot pay well at Plexus.

Doing crap burnt testicles claims arising from a cup of coffee in the lap as the plane comes into land or somebody getting stuck in the bogs for an hour at 30,000 feet will pay jack.

I’ve been thinking about it’s new marketing strap line.

Plexus, increasingly inconsequential.

Any more partners or clients bailed, this week?  

The Dark Knight 10 February 23 14:53

@ I’ve seen the light, knight


I can assure you that there’s no heating in the offices - it’s like working in the Tundra

Relativity Boy 10 February 23 15:30

@anonymous 14:12 I was obviously talking about like for like between those 3 firms' northern offices and their London offices (i.e. they're all paying about £100k NQ in London and £62k NQ in Manchester/Leeds). If you want to have a debate about whether the gulf in pay between London and the north is justified, that's a totally separate issue. 

Fly Boy knows nothing - clearly 10 February 23 17:44

Plexus don’t act for airlines. 
Clyde & Co do airline work, alongside HFW and Kennedys, in the main. I agree these “coffee spilled by cabin crew” and “locked in the loos at 30,000 feet” claims pay terribly, though. 

Anon. 10 February 23 20:32

Another week, another exit from BLM/ Clydes, and total silence from ROF. 

To be relevant, looks like low BLM pay has hit the Clydes score.

Fly boy 10 February 23 22:54

Great to see Plexis advertising aviation on its website.


  • Personal injury claims
  • Fatalities
  • Damage to aircraft
  • Property damage
  • Contractual dispute

Testicles roasted claims, locked in the bog claims lol.

So aviation law is “I tripped over a bagel next to seat 68”.  Lol who knew? 
Cutting edge shit kicking at its best. 

No consequence ambulance chasing law. 
tick tock

Embarrassed 11 February 23 00:40

I eat special K for breakfast 

Thought it was a good choice. Not so sure now. Special K is clearly bottom shelf quality. 

Crapsticks 11 February 23 08:27

At Capsticks people are often attached to the London office and receiving the London salary yet not living in London. Other firms are guilty too. They also arrogantly don’t think they have any competition in the market so their pay benchmarking process is flawed from the outset. They removed the pay questions from the staff survey because they didn’t like the feedback first time around and did nothing to address it. 

Senior MC associate 11 February 23 09:40

Sidley and Debovoise are both third-rate US firms. The quality of their associates isn’t up to scratch in comparison with MC and other US/International firms. Top remuneration no doubt, but not optimal for long term career development. 

Anonymous 11 February 23 11:04

Scotland is an interesting one. Some firms now paying around 40k to NQs while rivals are paying around 60k for similar work. Now in a position where NQs are earning more than senior associates at rival firms. Then some legal directors earning more than partners at others. The pay disparity is a massive issue for the market and in need of recalibration.

Anonymous 11 February 23 12:45

Could anyone please explain to me why anyone would ever apply for a job at any of the bottom 20 firms listed here? ROF is well known by students, has been publishing for over 20 years, and should serve as a stark warning.

Senior US associate 11 February 23 13:28


What exactly does the MC offer for long term career development of a senior associate that the US firms can't?

You are welcome to hold out in the drudgery in the hope that you will one day make partner, but for the time being, self perceived prestige does not pay the bills.

An explanation 12 February 23 17:42

"Could anyone please explain to me why anyone would ever apply for a job at any of the bottom 20 firms listed here? ROF is well known by students, has been publishing for over 20 years, and should serve as a stark warning."

The bottom 20 firms listed here include three magic circle firms.  

If you're a student looking at graduate opportunities, even some of the bottom 10 firms listed here pay very well.  They certainly pay a lot better than most other jobs in society, let alone comparable graduate-level jobs (example London NQ salaries: Kennedys/Clyde £80k, Dentons/BCLP £95k, SPB £100k - all great pay for someone in their mid/late 20s or even 30s).  

The majority of the disgruntlement around pay at these firms won't (or really shouldn't) be at the junior end (provided firms are actually paying NQs the figures they quote to the legal press - heard mixed things on this). 

Anon 12 February 23 21:03

@An explanation 12 February 23 17:42 - the problem is, the divide gets much worse with every year. For senior associates at the higher PQE end, between a mid tier firm like Dentons or BCLP as you mention, versus a top paying US firm like Kirkland, Latham, Goodwin, Weil etc, the difference is: (a) £150k base + £50k bonus, versus (b) £280k base + £115k (or more if you hit higher targets) bonus (plus last year £80k+ in COVID bonuses plus much cooler perks and access to US well-being and inter office travel initiatives).  Like for like you could be earning 300k (or more) at senior associate level doing the same hours at some US!

Bad L for Goodwin 13 February 23 05:58

What’s the deal with only 53% at Goodwin? Trainees and NQs have some of the highest part on the market (55k and 161k). A sign of pq bunching maybe? Someone enlighten me pls

Ex-SPB Toiler 13 February 23 11:51

So glad I left this cesspit. The London office reeked of favouritism, nepotism and poor communication around key topics such as pay and the new office move etc - just to name a few. It’s a real shame because there is actually some great people at the junior-mid end and support staff. The regional offices looked to be pretty good outfits too. 

Assoc at Goodwin 13 February 23 14:23

The 53% for Goodwin makes no sense, pay and bonuses there are near top of market. Anyone who is getting paid >£160k as an NQ and >£250k base as a senior associate is having a laugh at scoring that lower.

@Assoc at Goodwin 13 February 23 17:32

The fact that Goodwin is scoring that poorly despite those huge numbers suggests to me that there are serious failings in other areas. How unhappy must you be with the hours, people and culture that even >£160k as an NQ seems like a bad deal?

Ex-TS gone US 13 February 23 19:07

We were told last week to stop beating up on Travers Smith, but the market moves even if the cult-members choose not to see it.  And then:

Two partners promoted in last couple of years going to a prime New York firm. Money talks; lean business models are better and a strong US side is essential for corporate and financial work, especially outside of public M&A. 

Disgruntled employee 15 February 23 17:22

Huge fallout at SPB this week.  Pay reviews announced - NQs massive jump but not much for anyone else.  Likely to be a mass exodus at this rate. No wonder they rank so low.  The firm just cares about looking after the greedy equity partners and not the fee earners who do all the graft. Golden turd next year. 

Anon 16 February 23 21:40

Another disappointing year at SPB. NQs valued at 65k in the regions with experienced lawyers sitting fractionally above that. Managing partner made a point of saying he did “not want people being able to go to other firms with lower chargeable hours targets and higher salaries” while introducing a target of 1600 hours… basically any other comparable firm. Management are deluded if they think good lawyers are staying for this. 

Anon 16 February 23 23:23

There is some concern with some Goodwin associates about pay because there has been no adjustment to factor in recent changes in GBP/USD. Also the all expenses paid holiday if you hit targets which was paid in addition to bonuses is now capped at USD5K instead of USD10k (a bit annoying as it means a lot of the resorts and package tours on offer from the firm travel agent are out of budget now).  
The thing is - if you’re at a US firm, there’s still content/discontent if your peers are getting slightly better remuneration.  Not saying the reaction is reasonable. 
but yes… understand how this may seem completely ridiculous if you are from a Hogan or BCLP… but the point is it’s all subjective 

Boston PI Lawyer 17 February 23 02:06

I make much more than these Biglaw drones. I work 20-30 hours per week. Work smarter, not harder. The jokes on you. 

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