Assume position

Spare the rod and spoil the junior associate.

In-house lawyers want junior lawyers' salaries to stop increasing, and for firms not to work juniors to the bone, according to results so far in the RollOnFriday In-house Lawyer Survey.

"Stop the salary inflation," said a GC in a bank. "Believe me, you are not worth the fees you are charging at any level. No, not even you. If you want to pay your associates huge salaries, take it out of partner remuneration."

"Law firms seem to forget that we've all come from Private Practice and know the value and knowledge of what NQs can bring to a matter (not a lot)," said another. "It's not a sustainable model to pay huge wages to lawyers just to keep up with other firms, only to pass that cost on to the clients in bills."

"The pay war to compete with US firms is having a knock on effect across the City, but we shouldn't be the ones to suffer the consequences, via a rise in our invoices," complained an in-house lawyer in technology.

"We're not impressed by the emails in the middle of the night, but this is a systemic problem as firms are paying exorbitant salaries, which puts pressure on young lawyers to demonstrate that their pay is justified," said another in-house lawyer.

"I left a large firm because I was being worked like an ox. So to see knackered lawyers in meetings, brings back bad memories, and isn't a great look," said another in-house lawyer.

"Stop making people work ridiculous hours," summarised a GC in the insurance sector. 

If you're in-house and agree or disagree, have your say below.

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Tip Off ROF


Private practice 26 April 24 08:30

"Stop working your team so hard, but it would be great if we could have those docs by tomorrow morning."

Private Practice 26 April 24 08:32

It's not like law isn't a very competitive industry. There are absolutely tons of law firms. So if you think your law firm costs too much, find someone cheaper rather than complain about employees and partners being paid the market rate for their skills. 

The reason you don't is that a lot of legal work is actually quite difficult and you want good people on it, and for higher end legal work it is absolutely worth paying for good lawyers. In the context of a multi-billion pound M&A deal, the few million quid you spend on a good team of lawyers is a drop in the ocean, but you would absolutely notice if you chose some third raters to chance it for the sake of cutting that spend down. Ditto, you might think that bright spark of a tax lawyer is charging too much, but they are probably saving you orders of magnitude more money than you are spending on them. 

On the beasting front - I have some sympathy. But it is the nature of professional services. When what you are selling is effectively good people, the main way to increase profit is to get as much output out of those good people as you can. It's really a choice between the employees and the employer as to how far they want to push that. Again, if you don't like it, there are other law firms you can instruct. And finally, with some types of work it is the nature of the beast. You can't get a big transaction done on a tight timetable (with that timetable being dictated by the client, not the private practice lawyers...) without burning the midnight oil a bit. 

Anonymous 26 April 24 08:35

For every client that says this, there are three more that will provide instructions at 5pm for something they want to review within 1-2 working days. 

Anonymous 26 April 24 08:40

There's a law firm at every price bracket. If you aren't happy with the fees you are paying, go to a cheaper firm? This isn't complicated. 

Captain Obvious 26 April 24 08:46

Half the reason why there are "ridiculous hours" is due to urgency (which is often last minute) from the client side. If in-house lawyers really cared about the long hours worked, they would make this a factor when choosing firms. Any change made by a law firm will only be due to client pressure.

Anonymous 26 April 24 08:53

How about refusing to pay lawyers who charge you thousands to be a glorified intermediary between you and counsel.  

Dearie 26 April 24 08:55

So if the beasting is all the client’s fault for unreasonable instructions, where are the partners telling them to jog on? Thought not. 

Anonymous 26 April 24 09:03

Most in-house lawyers left private practice because they were frustrated at the working culture, so it’s not surprising they say this when presented with a survey. 

Anon 26 April 24 09:05

Hard agree with the in-house views in this article. Also, absolutely no jealousy here (no reason for it). I am in-house in a pretty senior position, earning a very decent fixed salary plus bonus, shares and a frankly excellent benefits package. I work from 9-9.30 to 6-6.30 most days. The occasional day on a weekend once in a blue moon and my holidays are sacrosanct. I do complex and rewarding work which applies deep technical knowledge (which is respected), commercial know-how and practical problem-solving pretty much every day - and I do it with energy and enthusiasm because I’m not being beasted in every orrifice all the time. 
Don’t get me wrong, I worked in private practice for a significant amount of time and truly believe that this was necessary to make me the lawyer I am now, but the long hours and craziness were ultimately counterproductive and unsustainable in terms of energy levels, mental health, interpersonal relationships and enthusiasm for the job. You can’t continue to work like that and do so at your best, intellectually. Paying exorbitant salaries to NQs etc just incentivises firms to employ fewer people and push those they do have even harder. Dreadful for them and, on a purely selfish level as a client, you’re just not getting someone’s best work/ value for money when they’re exhausted.

Pffft 26 April 24 09:07

Why do that when you can do what my place does: pay associates peanuts and flog them to death anyway?

Crust of Bread 26 April 24 09:35

What the GCs' are not saying is that salary rises in private practice are now feeding through to certain teams in house e.g. commercial (procurement & contracting). These GC's are now throwing their teddy out the cot when their teams leave for 50% more dollar. The GCs' weirdly seem to think that they can tell private practice to cap pay when the horse has long ago bolted and while the GCs themselves are trousering significant salaries. It is a case of " do as I say not as I do."

MC associate 26 April 24 09:44

I can guarantee you that if salaries for associates were lowered, the expectations would be exactly the same. It's unthinkable that clients would suddenly be content with lawyers taking a week to do something which previously took them two days. In particular can you imagine non-legal staff at a client (or, god forbid, senior management) taking such an indulgent view? 

So given the endless escalation of client expectations, the increasing complexity of the work we do (someone should do a study on the average length of an SPA over the past thirty years) and the way in which first email, then mobile phones, and now Teams have made us permanently contactable, I think we might as well keep the salaries.

Nuance lost 26 April 24 09:51

With over 20+ years in the profession, may I offer:

1. On certain routine matters, your instructions to outside counsel requesting urgent attention are typically motivated by your own internal deadlines (response to senior management, board meeting, internal project deadlines etc). 

2. In the ordinary course of business, you will need urgent, high value legal advice (as others have noted eg M&A, response to regulator, PR-worthy critical incident etc)

3. There will be other BAU work that you decide you will send to outside counsel (eg your team is stretched, you don't have the internal expertise, different jurisdiction etc)

4. You have spent time re-thinking your operating model for your legal department and triage business requests appropriately - ensuring the right work is done by the right team in the right place at the right time. 

For #1 - Set SLAs which recognize the urgency and motivate outside counsel to revert as soon as possible - with higher hourly rates/fee arrangements.

For #2 - Impossible to set SLAs. Engage your trusted outside counsel, discuss where AFAs are possible but, in general, you want the best team alongside you in the trenches - you will likely be up at all hours, so will they.

For #3 - Set SLAs which recognize the complexity and urgency of these requests; Ensure your outside counsel are clear on the difference between these and #1 and #2. Set hourly rates/fee arrangements to reflect this work and delivery SLA.

For #4 - If you have done this and continue to review based on data annually, in conjunction with your COO and feedback on service from your business stakeholders, you are probably smugly laughing at this online discussion board. Your mix of law firms, ALSPs and internal centres of excellence are delivering the appropriate quality at the right price, on budget - and you can see that you are in the minority as a GC/CLO. 

Anonymous 26 April 24 10:00

If I instruct a City firm and give them plenty of time - say a week to do half a day's work - the work is always delivered after close of business on the final day and usually close to midnight.

This is because of the law firm's business model where everything is squeezed to maximise profits for the partners.

In-house Lawyer 26 April 24 10:07

Personally I’m very happy with the way salaries are going for lawyers. Lawyers have been beasts far too long for little remuneration, the outputs have never equated to the salaries juniors are on. So it’s nice to see junior salaries “levelling up”. 

As one commentator mentioned above these salaries are trickling and impacting on in-house positions, rightly so. So it is understandable why GCs may be getting frustrated. 

Anonymous 26 April 24 10:07

Also the in-house comments are as though they're like wonderful humanitarians.

Obviously that is bollox. Law firms used to pay about 60k to NQs around 2005 with 5-10k increments for PQE. Due to the GFC salaries were frozen until about 10 years later. The needle started moving around 2015 as US firms started recruiting more and more, where they were offering 90k for an NQ and year by year they started getting closer to Cravath until they started thereabouts matching (at NQ and then bunching usually thereafter). The US firms do this to maintain parity between offices. But UK law firms have to compete for the same talent as the US firms. 

And as someone indicated, the expectations were always late nights. When associates were paid 50-60k they were still working until midnight and working hard. Did a BLP associate in 2008 work about the same as a BCLP associate does in 2024? Probably. But has the cost of living increased dramatically, have house prices rocketed? Yes. So whole salaries have been driven up, purchasing power is worse and getting on the property ladder is harder. And is the legal market more competitive with dozens of US firms driving up salaries and working hours? Yes. The UK firms try vaguely to compete with US firms on "culture" maintaining the hours they always have - long hours - but shy of the 2000 demanded by US firms. In turn they pay much much less. But the hours won't change in the US firms or the UK firms if you change the salaries. 

The reality is in-house salaries haven't kept pace with inflation or the market in general, so in-house finds it harder to recruit. Or they pay a lawyer's exit salary and then never offer any pay increases. GCs are pissy with large legal bills and are whining over it while also pretending they're the good guys. All the while they ignore the 10 year pay freeze in the city and the long overdue market correction, together with the influx of US firms. And most of the PE firms don't give that much of a toss about the legals since they're paid by investors and they want the best results, and no one got fired for hiring Kirkland. 

Maybe these GCs at these second rate entities moping should just vote Labour, hope they do as they say and tax carry forcing managers to leave, PE in the UK to collapse, and for the US shops to layoff half their staff. Then you might get a recession but you'll get a big pay freeze and probably reductions in pay with increased supply and reduced demand. 

OldFart 26 April 24 10:12

In a previous job in private practice, one client really did care about this, and made it a requirement that their work be done in normal working hours and that staff not work overtime on their matter.  They checked, too.  If more clients did this, it might have an effect.  Otherwise, talk is cheap.

Anonymous 26 April 24 10:15


You were too dumb to make it at a firm and had to go in house, so don't be jealous of people who could make it at a firm.

Anonymous 26 April 24 10:24

Mad comments from in house lawyers. Think with your feet. I work at a national firm and we’ve taken work off “City” firms because we’re cheaper, just as good and aren’t half zombie. 

anonymous 26 April 24 10:32

GCs have some power - and should set T&Cs in engagement letters that reflect what they want to happen.

As I've pointed out before I had a major US institution client insert a clause that only 8 hours chargeable time for any one lawyer in any one day could be billed, unless specific permission was given. Dispensation could be given for the urgent advice to be turned round, but this clause reduces the routine beastings of juniors on big transactions.


Sleeping like a baby 26 April 24 10:37

Lots of angry comments from private practice lawyers here. What's up guys? Not getting enough sleep?

Truth Speaker 26 April 24 10:47

Clients that complain the most about rates are usually grade A canutes to my associates. So we have to pay them well to tolerate you. 


Sit down. Come back to private practice and you'll be straight back out with that approach to professionals that are out to bat for you

Anon 26 April 24 10:48

I think it is somewhat arrogant for in-house lawyers to think they have any say in what firms pay their staff. 

Ultimately, if they don't like the rates being charged, they are always entitled to take their money somewhere else. 

thecynic 26 April 24 11:09

The rates for fee earners should represent their ability and experience and thereby the value they add. If instructions are urgent then firms can, and do, add a premium to reflect that, but that premium should not be based on already overinflated rates. Let's face it, many NQs would struggle to find their own rear ends with both hands and a flashlight.

Anon 26 April 24 11:31

Come on, some of the rates being charged for mid level or even partners are insane. Over £1500 an hour?! Then you end up with several people you didn’t ask for on a call and you are the wrong side of £10k 

White Shoe Lawyer 26 April 24 11:45

The complaints by these in-house lawyers don’t make any sense. In a free-market environment, supply and demand determines our hourly rates. In White Shoe Law Firms, we have the best of the best, and our clients are willing to pay our higher fees. Working to the bone also makes us a lot more experienced than our peers at British law firms, who leave their offices at 6 o’clock. In any event, we don’t need clients who complain about our rates; we value our current sophisticated clients who value the unparalleled quality of service that we deliver.

@ Anon 26 April 24 11:31 26 April 24 12:17

Your attitude is the worst. Why? Because you complain about fees going “over £10k” as though it’s your money being spent. It isn’t. 

Anonymous 26 April 24 12:31

Is “lover salaries and don’t beast them” code for “I’m jealous because I negotiated a low in-house wage prior to the NQ pay wars and I don’t care how hard they work”?

A client 26 April 24 12:36

As a client, do I get a discount if I say "there is no urgency, take your time?"  No, I don't. I am still billed for the same number of hours. So I might as well get the answer sooner rather than later.  Nothing will change in the short term, but AI is going to kill a lot of junior work. Make hay while you can.

Anon 26 April 24 09:05 26 April 24 12:42

Hi it's me Anon 26 April 24 09:05 again. Just as a reminder, I am in-house in a pretty senior position, earning a very decent fixed salary plus bonus, shares and a frankly excellent benefits package. I work from 9-9.30 to 6-6.30 most days. Seeing as I am financially sorted despite not having to work very hard, I would prefer that the younger generation get paid less money. Screw those guys.  

Anyway I need to go now, I have a John Lewis delivery arriving. By the way my house is now worth about 50% more than what I paid for it even though I have not made any improvements to it. Here is a financial tip for the younger generation: try being born earlier. 

Anonymous 26 April 24 12:50

Entirely disingenuous. You expect to be able to drop instructions at 5pm on a Friday and get a response over the weekend, then it'll cost ya.

Anonymous 26 April 24 12:51

A bit of client-blaming going on but law firms don't help themselves.

You could hire more people for one. Some work is always lumpy and last minute. There's not a lot that can be done about that. If you hired more lawyers and paid them less then the associate wouldn't be working til 3am on multiple deals.

Also, law firms deliberately low ball quotes to win the deal. In houses them pad your fee quote internally but it sometimes goes wrong. Life would be so much better if the law firm gave the honest range.  

papercuts 26 April 24 14:26

Intelligence, spare me.  Boards do not respect the much-vaunted intelligence of private practitioners.  Lawyers all do much the same exams.  And progress to partnership is 90% about rain-making, not "intelligence".    

Nobody complaining about high salaries per se, merely pointing out that, as any fule kno, trainees and NQs are generally worthless – nerdy bipedal textbooks with no common sense and no decision-making ability.   After say 5 years PQE, they are of course worth it, and then nobody cares a jot about what staff are paid.

I wouldn’t be in-house without a substantial sweat equity kicker.   I’ve worked half my career in large corporate firms, and half in companies I helped found.  The latter is way more lucrative, and much more fun.  You should try it, if you’re smart enough to have a viable business idea, and if you can tear yourself away from the comfort-blanket of steady employment.  

Anonymous 26 April 24 15:18

A client 26 April 24 12:36: No, you don't get a discount. What you should get when you ask for something to be treated as 'urgent' or set a crazy deadline is to be charged an uplift on our fees. Then maybe you will think again as to whether something is actually needed by that point or not.

Own worst enemy 26 April 24 15:36

How many external lawyers bother to sit down with GCs and decision makers in their client firms on a regular basis to find out what they want over the next period?

Of those that do, how many leave with the message ‘more for less’ ?

Seriously, private practice is too frightened of the spectre of losing out to cut-price competition to serve its own interests. 

Join the dots, folks. I know it’s asking a lot to expect you overnight to understand sums. But the whole point is to supply a service for a profit. Work out how to do that and start applying it.

Anon 27 April 24 14:15

I earned £127,500 base salary in a law firm in 2007 as a 3 year PQE, before the financial crisis took hold. In real terms that is about £200k now. That firm now pays 3 year PQEs in London about £220k. Salaries have not really gone up much in the last 15 years. 

Anonymous 29 April 24 13:29

"It's not a sustainable model to pay high salaries to NQs"... in house are now sh****ng themselves that they won't be able to attract attorneys with their sub-par salaries and equally 'floggy' working environments - unsustainable for who?

Anonymous 03 May 24 08:12

If the GC’s quoted don’t like it, take your business elsewhere. Which isn’t been done, which is the very proof the lawyers are worth what they are charging. They have the option - don’t pay. Your choice.

Nonsense comments.

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