Trainee yesterday,  every bank manager's dream today.

Three US firms have ramped up their NQ remuneration this week, signalling that the pay war among salary bands available for public scrutiny (and envy) is not cooling down yet.

Ropes & Gray has increased NQ pay from £147k (pathetic, can’t live on that) to £165k (reasonable), effective from 1 January.

Its trainees are rolling in it, too – a first year now enjoys a salary of £60k, rather than £57.5k, and second years are paid £65k, up from £62.5k.  

Sidley Austin has bumped NQ pay to £166.5k from £159.5k, while Paul Hastings is boosting pay for its newly qualified solicitors from £164k to a massive £173k.

Other members of the £170k+ club include the likes of Akin Gump, Kirkland & Ellis, Latham & Watkins and Vinson & Elkins.

NQ salaries are fixed across a firm, whereas at higher levels they swing within PQE bands according to performance, practice and more mysterious metrics. As such, they aren't released by firms, whereas NQ pay has become the frontline in tempting new talent. As a barometer of what more senior solicitors are paid, it can be misleading - there are plenty who grumble about salary bunching, and accuse NQs of sucking up a disproportionate amount of cash.

But the war goes on. Already in January, Cleary has hiked NQ pay to £164.5k and Davis Polk has settled on £170k. Weil also now pays £170k. All are US firms, and although UK heavyhitters, which traditionally employ significantly more NQs, haven’t matched them, there have been significant increases which included all five Magic Circle firms climbing to £125k.

Meanwhile, the likes of Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells and Mayer Brown all currently pay NQs a base salary of £120k. 

Ropes and Paul Hastings have been asked for comment. Sidley declined: the figures say it all.

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Anon 26 January 24 08:32

Not worth it to be stressed all the time and have no life when you can earn a bit less, still be well off, do good work and have a life.   

Methuselah 26 January 24 08:43

The pay bunching is very real, and at Ropes a total joke. Even after these raises the top of the associate lockstep is around £50k-70k off what an “elite US law firm” should pay. 

Anonymous 26 January 24 10:33

Have a good friend who recently departed Paul Hastings. Confirms what you have all long suspected: the money is not worth it.

The lines on their face told that tale long before, but it's nice that they can say it out loud now.

Leftlaw 26 January 24 10:41

They pay that much because it's a terrible way to spend your life and people are figuring out it

LondonLife 26 January 24 11:46

Do all these firms really beast you that much? I had a friend at Debevoise and he was utterly thrashed.


I know someone at Mayer Brown (who admittedly only pay 120k) but she hardly ever works late. I don't recall her ever doing weekend work.

Cynical Bastard 26 January 24 12:20

The real people who benefit from this are NQs at other decent firms who benefit somewhat from the upwards pay pressure, while still having a job which doesn't completely destroy any hope of a life…

Still, I guess £174k will be enough to keep a solid flow of naively greedy fresh-faced trainees to be ground up and destroyed in the machine.

Lost Man 26 January 24 12:46

@Londonlife - Many of these US firms only pay such high salaries due to market pressures and an attempt to keep up appearances. At many of these firms, there really is not enough work to go around hence the need for frequent layoffs. See the article saying that double digits associates at Sidley were billing sub 1k hours..

Officedrone 26 January 24 13:19

It's golden handcuffs... someone waves a huge wad of cash at you, especially as an NQ, you count your lucky stars if you are primarily motivated by money. You'll also be their bitch, of course but that's a known part of the deal. 

If you want more of a work-life balance, nicer clients or have your time and health generally treated with more respect, work for different outfits... 

Sir Ben 26 January 24 13:50

It's only a matter of time until the wheels fall off this silly train. Clients will only put up with it for so long. 

Sure Jan 26 January 24 14:30

Cue all the comments from underpaid English firms claiming that it’s actually much better to earn less. “Oh yah I’d much rather earn less and not be burnt out” the city firm associate will exclaim, despite regularly clocking off around 8-9pm and working the odd weekend. 

Crabs in a bucket mentality will forever reign supreme in this country. 

Homeowner26 26 January 24 19:44

Speak for yourselves, I work at one of these firms in disputes. I own a two-bedroom flat in Shoreditch. Can afford a nice life, save comfortably and find my work-life balance. 

Call me a social climber but I’m a first generation college  graduate and the only person in my family who owns a home. I grew up on the verge of destitution, with an alcoholic and abusive family. I’m happy to work for the money, having witnessed the alternative. 

@Sure Jan 26 January 24 22:33

Underpaid English firm associate here - rarely work past 6 and take home £5k a month after tax.  

Would I want to take home £7-8k instead by working til 10 every night and on weekends for psychotic partners?  No thanks.   

Anonymous 26 January 24 22:53

Have an exit plan.  Decide what you really want to do with your life and save the money to do it.

I will be mortgage free and starting to train as a midwife in 18 months time.

Boston PI Lawyer 27 January 24 02:05

For crying out loud, I make that as a fee in one decent personal injury case. Leave the UK, qualify over here by doing a one year LLM, pass the bar and open a personal injury shop. I've already made $250k in fees this year and it's still January.  Fortune favors the brave. 

Sure Jan 28 January 24 21:49

That's great comment 22:33, I am glad you are satisfied with earning less, good for you. Ooh I see you've chosen the "all US associates work to 10pm every night and work every single weekend!!!!" rebuttal. Problem is that simply isn't true is it? - and I have a sneaky feeling you know that too. I am 2PQE at a US firm and most days I'm out around 7 (unless there's a closing) , do have to keep an eye on my phone - yet have worked two weekends and holidays are protected. In return - I earn 90k more than I would at my old SC and that gap only increases year on year, plus my bonus (which was guaranteed, not discretionary and higher than what most seniors receive at my old shop) helped pay off the last of my debt with some left over to treat all my family to a holiday.  And to your point re. an extra "8k" - I am glad that difference isn't much to you, however, for most 25-27 year old NQs that 8.5k a month plus the standard NQ $20k bonus vs your 5K is huge. Nevertheless, you are happy with your below market salary and bunched PQE future in return for an hour or two added to your evenings. Phew, if people like you didn't exist the competition for US lateral moves would be worse than it already is.

Anonymous 29 January 24 13:00

RegionaI legal director here.

On £75k + bonus (c.£5k)

Rarely work after 6pm.

Gym by 6.15pm most nights and every weekend with missus & kids. Own modest property.

Get rich in London when you're young. Don't be an old wage slave in London. Life is too short.

@Sure Jan 28 January 24 21:49 30 January 24 19:14

The unhinged rantings of someone on the edge, desperately trying to justify the Faustian pact to themselves through a haze of sleep deprivation, exhaustion and self-loathing.  My advice?  Get out while you still can (once you've logged off after midnight on your wedding night).     


Anonymous 01 February 24 14:02

Well, one thing's for sure, 21:49 sounds totally sane and not in any way unhinged. No idea why people say that working for a US shop puts an unbearable strain on your mental health.

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