Freshfields has raised NQ pay to £100,000.
Effective from 1 May, the firm has increased the £85,000 salary of its newly qualified lawyers by 18%. It means that fourth seat trainees, currently paid £51,000, will almost double their (gross) pay overnight.
Freshfields is the first Magic Circle firm to pay NQs a six figure salary, but the other four were tight-lipped when RollOnFriday asked if they would delight their trainees and NQs by matching it. At present, Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Linklaters and Slaughter and May all pay NQs around £83,000, with bonuses capable of taking them near the £90k mark.
Some questions remain over Freshfields' pay bump. The firm employs a performance-based banding system called 'Career Milestones', the lowest rung of which, 'Career Milestones Foundation', covers both NQs and 1PQEs. The CMF band used to be £85,000 - £97,500, however the firm refused to state the new band. "All we can confirm is that we do still have salary bandings in place", said a spokesman, "and that £100k is the starting salary for all NQs - and is broadly the salary that they will be on for the first year". He also declined to confirm whether higher bands, such as 'CM1', which captures 2-3PQEs in a £105,000 - £115,000 bracket, will now be repositioned.
Freshfields‘ new six figure salary doesn’t reach the crackers heights of US firms like Kirkland & Ellis, which pays NQs £146,000 in London. But it makes the Magic Circle deal of quality work but hard hours a lot more attractive to new solicitors considering their options, and to top students considering their offers.
It was the firm's mentoring scheme that sealed it for him, definitely
“Our pay offering is a critical part of our talent strategy", said a spokesman for Freshfields, "and reflects our continued commitment to attracting and retaining the very best talent in the legal market". Increasing the carrot by 18% should certainly make it a bit more sticky for trainees.
Earlier this year Freshfields scored 68% for salary satisfaction in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2019 survey, the highest in the Magic Circle. Although there were quibbles, the raise, particularly if it flows into higher bands, will have addressed a few of them. "You can't hide behind banded pay scales forever, guys", said a junior solicitor. "Trying to fob us off by not giving us a pay rise 'but you can have this shiny iPad' is laughable".
Before the world's smallest violin accompanies pay woes for Magic Circle lawyers, a junior at Slaughter and May gave some perspective, explaining in the Firm of the Year survey that although the salary was "competitive but not amazing", it was "made up for by non-salary benefits" which, in the case of Slaughters, included 30 days' holiday a year and no billable hours targets. Though its NQs probably wouldn't say no to £100k.