MC poker pic

Slaughters nips out for a cigarette.  

Linklaters has upped the salary for its NQs to £150,000, matching the recent rise by Freshfields. 

The increase, backdated to 1 May, represents a 20% uplift from Linklaters' previous NQ salary of £125k. It also puts the firm on a par with the likes of White & Case and Cooley. 

Links has also matched Freshfields in boosting trainee pay from £50k to £56k in year one, and from £55k to £61k in year two.  

The raises were conveyed in an email from the firm's management, seen by RollOnFriday, which was sent to associates last week.

“I would like to let you know that the firm has decided to increase salaries, to reflect current movements at the top of the UK market," said the internal email. "The Associate lockstep will now start at £150,000 for newly qualified lawyers and salaries for Associates and Managing Associates will be increased by £25,000 (pro-rated for part timers)."

In a statement for external consumption, Paul Lewis, Firmwide Managing Partner, commented: “We are committed to rewarding our people competitively in our market. Our salary changes reflect this and enable us to attract and retain exceptional lawyers to provide the highest quality service to our clients.”

When Freshfields set the NQ pay benchmark at £150k, RollOnFriday asked Linklaters if it was planning to match it, but the firm said it was unable to comment, at the time. The response appears to have been masking a frantic assessment behind the scenes, as to how much it would cost to copy Freshfields.

The rise means that Freshfields and Linklaters pay their NQs £25k more than the rest of the Magic Circle, for now.

In the previous round of Magic Circle pay rises, Freshfields was also the first out of the blocks, in April 2022, when it increased NQ pay to £125k. Clifford Chance quickly followed in May 2022. However, it took Linklaters and A&O a year to catch-up, in May 2023, as the firms had previously said they wouldn't "rush into matching" the wage. While Slaughter and May held out the longest, only copying its rivals  in November 2023.  

RollOnFriday asked Clifford Chance, A&O Shearman and Slaughter and May, this week, if they are planning to raise NQ pay to £150k, but none of them would confirm plans to up the salary. 

Clifford Chance usually publishes any salary rises in June, while the next Slaughter and May bi-annual pay review is set for November (following a recent one in April). 

At the newly merged A&O Shearman, NQ salary of £125k is the same as it was for A&O NQs, but a drop from the £145k that Shearman used to pay its London NQs. 

Playing NQ salary poker at the highest-stakes table, last week Quinn Emanuel increased the salaries of its NQs to an eye-watering £180k, matching Gibson Dunn.

In the latest comments from the in-house lawyer survey, a number of clients said that they want junior lawyers' salaries to stop increasing, as they believe the cost is being reflected in their invoices. One GC in a bank said: "Stop the salary inflation. If you want to pay your associates huge salaries, take it out of partner remuneration."

Which will be the next Magic Circle firm to match the NQ salary of £150k. RollOnFriday betting boffins have calculated* the following odds:

Clifford Chance - the bookies' favourites. CC has previous form on quickly matching NQ pay rises, and is due to announce details of its latest pay review next month. Odds: Evens.

A&O Shearman - a close contender, as the new firm may feel the pressure not to be left behind, given the fanfare surrounding the White Shoe/Magic Circle tie-up. Odds: 2-1.

Slaughter and May - the outsider. Slaughters was the last Magic Circle firm (by a significant number of months) to match the NQ pay rise in the last round, and so does not bend easily to peer pressure. Its next scheduled review is not due until November. But will it crack before then? Odds: 30-1

*RollOnFriday accepts no responsibility for any tips given. Please gamble responsibly. 

Place your bets:

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Thank you for taking part in RollOnFriday's survey of in-house lawyers. We use the results to write stories and reports. We don't take your name and so the answers you provide will be kept anonymous.
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Tip Off ROF


Supervision - or lack thereof 24 May 24 08:15

We (mid-tier City) got a poorly-judged claim from a US firm run by a non-specialist NQ kicked out with a 6-figure sum on costs. They were hyper-aggressive which backfired on them really badly when the judge took a really dim view of the correspondence and made the order on an indemnity basis. No sensible person would instruct a greenhorn to run important litigation. 

Anon 24 May 24 08:20

I was paid £13k first year, £17k second and £23k on qualification in 1996-98 of the then regional hub of a now large international law firm. Worked my ass off, all hours, for 7 years and left on £55k.  Learnt loads but felt, and still do, that the firm took full advantage.  Sometimes I think the pay increases are absurd but then I remember all the crazy hours and hard graft that goes into it, and I don’t blame the juniors for it. 

Junior associate 24 May 24 08:55

On a six figure salary and two months in my billable is already higher than my basic salary. I deserve every penny. THANK YOU. 

Bob 24 May 24 09:05

Remember, an NQ at an MC firm hitting their hours will bill over a million quid.  Clearly these NQ salaries are not 'unsustainable'.  What's more likely to be unsustainable is partners earning £5 - 10 million, and the rates that are required to sustain that.  If anyone is overpaid it is partners, not associates. 

@ anonymous 09:08 24 May 24 09:15

If the client is pissed off at exorbitant fees, should they not be annoyed at the partner with the multiple Rolexes, the holidays to Antigua, the five grand Italian suits, than the junior associate living in a tiny rental flat in Dalston earning £70k or something after tax, pension, student loan repayments? 

Anonymous 24 May 24 09:36

I feel like these Junior attorneys are [redacted] the old man with all these money demands. They're basically standing there with their hard [redacted] and saying give me the money or I'm going to [redacted] you.

In-House GC 24 May 24 09:57

I don't begrudge juniors the pay increases at all. It makes our in-house salaries ever more justifiable and seem cheap by comparison.  If the bills are too high, simply choose another firm.

Simple solution 24 May 24 10:39

If clients don't want to pay these fees, don't instruct these firms. Simple. Silver circle or even - gasp - mid-tier firms can do plenty of the things you routinely instruct MC/NY firms to do. 

Anon 24 May 24 10:53

Let's compare PEP for most recently announced financial results. Linklaters is behind the pack. 


Macfarlanes: £2.1m

Freshfields: £2.09m

Clifford Chance: £2m

Legacy A&O: £1.82m

Linklaters: £1.78m

3-ducks 24 May 24 11:02

Obscene salaries, but not as obscene as the £5m + earnings drawn by the bosses. 

It's all very well saying clients should instruct other firms, but there's very ltitle real choice when they're all in some mad race to attract "talent". It's an accidental cartel.  

Joshua 24 May 24 11:13

Does anyone know which firms are the most traditional / old school? Firms with less of a relentless progressive agenda etc. I've heard Slaughter and May and Macfarlanes mentioned but are there any others? 

Anonymous 24 May 24 11:36

Wonder if they’re increasing business services with such outrageous increases with the increased workloads that trickle down.

This is only fueling inequality. 

Anonymous 24 May 24 12:09

Joshua, no US and U.K. law firms sadly. I my opinion Big firms are putting they logo on paper and small ones make a job. Lately using Spanish law firm, brilliant. Belgium used , 1,5 million for big case which they won 800mln. That’s it. Can’t say more . Time is to abondent US and U.K. 

Anonymous 24 May 24 12:49

Joshua, I’m afraid that none of U.K. or US law firms. In my opinion they put their logo on the paper and use other smaller law firms for jobs (taking a cut, broker’s fees) . The rest it’s expensive templates. Recently using Spanish law firm, £80 thousand for my company court case , to sue opposition through even appeal court, case for 6zeros. Used Belgium law firm, £1,5 mln for whole case which they won £800 mln. That’s it. Sorry can’t help with names.

Dave 24 May 24 12:54

@3 Ducks

There is lots of choice around the UK if you looked. There are firms that are not magic circle or US offices. They also do law and charge a lot less.

Anon 24 May 24 13:16

@Anon 24 May 24 10:53

Worth noting though that Linklaters has a nearly 100% equity partnership (there are 30 non-equity partners presumably people who are semi retired or have some specific reason they can't be an equity partner like some jurisdictional regulatory issue). In contrast (according to the Lawyer UK200), about 35% of Macfarlanes partners are salaried, nearly 40% of CC partners are salaried, 20% of A&O partners are salaried. So its an apples to oranges comparison as that artificially inflates their PEP and obscures underlying profitability. At an underlying level Linklaters is much more profitable than any of them despite the lower PEP. It is worth noting that US firms also (with a small number of exceptions) do not have an all equity partnership so whilst they are more profitable there is that caveat.

The only real comparison is Freshfields which is also a 100% equity partnership - and they admittedly do seem to have pulled ahead. 

A 24 May 24 15:25

Is there data on the ratio of equity to non equity partners?  In my day A&O partners would spend the first 2-3 years on a salary, and there were “gates” for equity increases

Mr Large 24 May 24 15:54

Insider - if you're referring to a small number of jurisdictions where partners aren't members of one of the LLPs due to local law reasons then you are technically correct (though they are treated as equity for PEP purposes). There is however no non-equity tier whereby a partner starts off as salaried and then moves to equity.

Crust of Bread 25 May 24 11:50

The magic circle NQs deserve it. Anyone moaning about their pay should have worked harder at school / university ;) 

But hey I would say that as (1) I am in-house (general commercial) and the pay feeding frenzy is helping my pay too and (2) I have seen how hard they, well S&M NQs work. 

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