The traditional City game of NQ salary leapfrog

Herbert Smith Freehills has upped its salary for its newly-qualified solicitors from £120,000 to £135,000.

The pay boost for HSF NQs, which will be effective from 1 July, represents a rise of 12.5%. The firm is also increasing trainee salary from £50k to £56k (year one) and from £55k to £61k (year two), from 1 September.

"We are investing in our people – including our trainees and associates across all levels of experience – in a way that ensures a balanced and competitive reward structure in a dynamic market," said Alison Brown, executive partner at Herbert Smith Freehills. "This approach keeps us in the leading pack of international law firms and supports sustainable growth: good for our people, our clients and our business."

The NQ salary of £135k at HSF means the firm is now paying more than the likes of Norton Rose Fulbright and Mayer Brown (both on £120k), and puts the firm on a par with Hogan Lovells, which raised to £135k last month, and a smidge below Macfarlanes (£140k). 

Herbies NQ pay has also leapfrogged over Slaughter and May, which has stuck at £125k (for now), despite the rest of the Magic Circle recently raising to £150k. Slaughters has defended its current stance on pay, saying that its model is very different to the rest of the Magic Circle.  

There have been other NQ salary rises in the City: HFW has raised NQ salary from £95k to £100k (effective on 1 July), Stephenson Harwood has increased from £95k to £100k (effective on 1 July), Bird & Bird will raise from £95k to £98k (effective in September), and DLA Piper will up NQ salary in London from £100k to £110k (effective in September).

Regarding the salary increase at 2Birds, Head of London Phil Sherrell told RollOnFriday: "Although pay is important at Bird & Bird, our culture is also central; it’s why our people enjoy working at the firm.  We don’t need to tell RoF that though, of course, having topped the leader board amongst City firms in your latest Best Law Firms to Work At survey, placing 2nd overall.  That was down to a combination of our inclusive culture and the cutting-edge nature of a lot of the work our lawyers do. And of course the free coffee.”

Corrin Kaye, HFW's Chief People Officer said: "Combined with our bonus, our compensation package is significantly more generous than our competitors for strong performers." She added that "compensation is just one factor in what makes people want to join and stay with a firm", which offers a combination of "rewarding work for market-leading clients, a friendly and supportive environment, good work-life balance, and opportunities to develop."

RollOnFriday understands that there have been salary increases across every associate band at HSF. However, when asked, the firm would not reveal any salary details for associates, other than NQ. And Bird & Bird, Stephenson Harwood, HFW, DLA Piper all remained tight-lipped when asked the same question. It's become the norm for many firms to announce their headline grabbing NQ pay rises, without revealing salary at other levels; with some keeping schtum in order to hide salary bunching higher up the chain.  

One RollOnFriday reader commented: "Stephenson Harwood has undergone huge compression this round" with NQ salary at £100k, while a 6PQE could be on £130k. A SH spokesman said in response that the firm doesn't "have a set salary for someone who is 6 PQE because associate pay isn't directly aligned with PQE years" as the firm has "associate levels (junior, mid, managing) and salary ranges within those levels". He added: "we have increased all salary ranges this year."

While pay bunching is a concern for associates at some firms, it may not be an issue at Macfarlanes, where one lawyer commented: "Increase at Macs has rippled upwards. Happy with the outcome". 

Another Macfarlanes solicitor also said: "I'm a senior here so pay compression potentially an issue, but have just had notification of a massive pay increase. Am feeling so giddy about it that I will have to stop myself going up to our managing partner and slurring 'I lllaaahve you. I realleeey do llllavhe you!' and kissing him on the head. It's as well for his sake as well as mine that I am WFH today." 

Is there pay bunching where you work? Please do reveal, in the comments below, what associate earn at your firm, compared to NQs.

    LU icon Firms ping LawyerUp when they like you for a role. It's available on the App Store and Google Play.


Tip Off ROF


Disgruntled 05 July 24 08:53

I work at DLA and my pay rise was totally rubbish this year.  Not a solicitor, looking to leave when an opportunity comes up.  Fee earners get all the money the rest of us get shafted.

Anon 05 July 24 09:25

Before anyone comments that NQs (or lawyers) aren’t worth the salaries they’re paid (clearly they’re as the firms aren’t stupid), it’s encouraging to see young talents in this industry  being rewarded financially for their hard work and intelligence and some law firms increasing salaries to reflect inflation and performance when salaries in most of the industries haven’t gone up much or at all in this country, not to mention in line with inflation, housing affordability etc. 

just curious 05 July 24 11:34

speaking of NQs....has anyone heard anything about Skadden supposedly cancelling TC/their training programme?

@Disgruntled 05 July 24 12:01

Come on mate.

Have you done however many years of legal schooling? Have you been shafted by the SQE? Have you had to go through the grinder of applying for training contracts (sometimes for multiple years)? Have you completed two years of a training contract (note: being paid way below the NQ salary)? Do you have to work late? Do you have to cancel plans because a deal blows up? Do you have to genuinely look your partner / children in their eyes again and say “I can’t sorry I have to work” - and then see them disappointed but not surprised? How many weekends have you worked?  How often do you pack your laptop when you go on holiday?

Becoming and being lawyer is brutal - and UK law firms are only just waking up to the fact they need to pay to reflect that (something US firms have done for a while).

Anon 05 July 24 13:18

Wondering when Simmons will catch up with the market. I’m a Senior associate being paid less than NQs at competitor firms. Craziness. 

Dolla Bills 05 July 24 13:23

Word on the street is Morgan, Lewis & Boikicius is opening a London office with £250k NQ.  Anyone got intel on Paul?  Or Weiss?  Skadden is dropping its London staff like flies as, quote, it's "skaddenuff" of them.  In other news, Paul Hastings has purchased the entire town of Hastings in East Sussex for its new global HQ.

US Senior 05 July 24 13:24

I'm not as nice as 12:01 and will tell it to you the way it is - whether by choice or not, you haven't made as much sacrifice or are able to contribute as much revenue to the firm as an NQ or any sort of fee-earner. This is why they are rightfully paid multiples of your salary. If you don't like it and have the ability to, qualify. 

Otherwise, have a nice evening (of which many on this board will not be able to) and be satisfied with your pay.

@disgruntled opposer 05 July 24 13:30

I do see your point - but support/BD/cost centre staff aren’t asking to be put on £100K+. Just give them a fair increase that reflects all they do in keeping the wheels of the firm moving. 

Reality check 05 July 24 14:35

Salary reflects replaceability. Support staff are more easily replaceable than fee earners for law firms. 

@13.24 05 July 24 17:03

it must be so tough for you on your multiple multiple mutiple thousands salary.  “You’re Worth It” Not.

@13.30 05 July 24 17:08

You’re like Rishi.  “Out of Touch” with reality.  Rich people like you never understand.  Enjoy  your Summer trip tp Wimbledon.

@14.35 05 July 24 17:10

You don’t live in the real world do you.  Does Mummy or Nanny still do your washing.

Anonymous 05 July 24 20:29

Good point @disguntled opposer.  The cost of living hits the lower income employees harder.  We are not asking for the 6 figure salaries. We recognise your talent, educational background and hard work. Just remember all the other non-fee earning employees work just as hard. Some falling into the same category of working late, working weekends, logging on during their annual leave. We ALL contribute to the firm and keep it running.  At least give us what the current inflation rate is.  NOT a pathetic 1%-5%.  Moral is low across all firms.  Under appreciated and undervalued.

LawLady 07 July 24 14:12

Don’t come to Fieldfisher for the money, that’s for sure.  A derisory pay rise this year in a team that’s making the firm a lot of money.  

The firm is also full of lifers who have no idea what is happening at other law firms nor that the average quality of lawyers at all levels of the firm is dismally low.

Related News