Completely ruining the game.

Quinn Emanuel has increased the salaries of its newly qualified solicitors to £180,000, putting thirty thousand pounds’ worth of clear blue water between itself and the top-paying UK firms.

Quinn used to pay its NQs £152k, but a week after Freshfields proudly upped its pay for new solicitors to £150k, the US litigation specialist followed Gibson Dunn and leapt to an even more nonsensical sum.

From 1 June, as well as NQs taking home almost £9k a month, Quinn will have 1PQE’s on £195k, up from £160K, and 2PQEs on £220k, up from £184k. Seems reasonable. Here are all the increases:


Alex Gerbi, Quinn Emanuel’s London co-managing partner, said the firm was rewarding “our outstanding lawyers for the contribution they make daily to the success of our practice in London”, and was also seeking to “attract the very best new talent”.

Even before the latest raises, junior Quinn lawyers described their remuneration as “very generous”. They told ROF the work was “intense”, but “as long as you are working with nice teams, you can fit your life around your work most of the time”. 

Their chief grumble was the requirement to come into the office three days a week which “eats into the life part for no good reason, and looks grotesque against the background of all the noise the firm has made in the legal press about the work from anywhere policy”. Maybe another £30k a year will soothe those quibbles.

Rancour over the NQ pay war was the biggest issue alongside WFH in RollOnFriday’s Best Law Firms to Work At 2024. Thousands of lawyers wrote in, and a significant proportion expressed their dismay at the knock-on effects of paying such junior solicitors such gigantic sums.

Pay bunching, where lawyers further up the totem pole are not paid much more the NQs and see their salaries increase by only minimal amounts between bands, was the key concern. Freshfields and now Quinn’s moves have reignited those complaints.

At firms where, behind the publicised NQ salary, senior bands are bunched together, some lawyers are beginning to ask why they, or the NQs themselves in a couple of years, should bother sticking around.

“I find this NQ pay just madness”, a senior lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright told RollOnFriday.

“Nevermind ‘overpaying’ for juniors, the question is what is the position for the rest of the non-partner professionals”, they said.

As an example, they gave the position of 8PQE solicitors at NRF who are paid circa £162,000 compared to NQs on £125,000. “It begs the question, why are senior professionals staying/taking on the level of responsibility they do (running billion pound deals), when they earn c.22%/29% (depending how you measure it) more than NQs, and what is the carrot for NQs, knowing that if they stay, they are looking at effective 3.3% increases per year?”

An 8PQE at Freshfields commented on ROF that the pay “is good enough, but there is definitely bunching (and opaqueness as you get higher), which makes many nod their heads when you see comments about NQ pay being too high”.

“£180k for a baby solicitor is outrageous”, said one commenter. “What are the NQs doing for that kind of wedge?” asked another.

“Being available at close to all hours of the day and most days of the year, in order to do work which is extremely dull whilst simultaneously requiring strong attention to detail, and having the communication nous to explain complicated concepts to demanding clients and keep them happy”, responded one well-paid NQ.

“It's not brain surgery, and it doesn't require one to be a genius (or even particularly smart at all - I certainly am not). But it does require quite substantial reserves of resilience, stamina, and interpersonal skills”, they said.

“This isn't a sustainable business model”, suggested one lawyer. “Inexperienced NQs simply are not worth this level of pay. There's plenty of partners throughout the UK who aren't worth this level of pay!”

“I honestly don't understand the insane trajectory of NQ salaries over the past couple of years”, said a Magic Circle solicitor. “As a 7PQE at a MC firm in 2021 my base was £133k - how far things have come. What is the rationale here? MC firms bleat on about ‘attracting the best talent’ but there is a massive oversubscription of wannabe lawyers from Russell group unis who, in my experience, are largely fungible.” 

Others defended the stratospheric rises. “Firms are paying for a combination of real dedication and stamina, being very bright and having the potential to be the very best at doing something that often manages to be both incredibly stressful and insufferably dull”, said a commenter sympathetic to the gold-plated NQs.

“There aren’t that many people capable of doing it and willing to do it. And of those that are - the highest paying firms want the very best of them”.

Making themselves worthy of such a large investment meant it was a Faustian pact, said others. “The expectations of you based on this level of pay must be utterly ludicrous. Is it really a worthwhile trade-off to sacrifice your personal time and mental wellbeing for the demands of a role paying that salary?” Just wait until Kirkland punches through the £200k barrier in the autumn.

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Tip Off ROF


iregisteredforthisquestionmark 17 May 24 03:31

Came as a surprise to me that Quinn were not already paying Cravath rates in London anyway tbh.

Also, the discussion about "what NQs are doing" for that kind of money misses the point (as always). They are not doing anything they werent doing back in the heady days when they were paid c.66k p/a. It is just that the market rates have moved. You want the best? Pay market rates.

'Bunching' is interesting though. There should be more attention given to how the upper end of the UK pay scale compares with the upper end of the Cravath scale. The NQ number always gets the headlines but it's relevant to such a small proportion of City lawyers. Same with bonuses - compare the opacity at London firms with New York.

Crust of Bread 17 May 24 07:05

This pay feeding frenzy is flowing down into certain in-house commercial teams salaries too ;)

General Counsel 17 May 24 08:38

What is “the best” that is offered by a Quinn NQ? Supervising the index and writing eighteen poorly drafted letters every five days? Yeah I get Quinn have “greatest litigation firm in the universe” and “we’re so mean!” as their shtick, but I don’t know how any GC could justify instructing them. You can go down the road to Freshfields, Lovells or dare I say it Clyde & Co (which is a very good litigation firm) and get high quality service for between 60% and a third of the price. What category of litigation requires a £180K NQ?  I think any client that appoints a firm with 180K NQ for litigation is not very sophisticated and probably needs their heads checked.  Now, for partners, it’s different especially in litigation which is all about judgment, but that’s why I go to Lovells or A&O for high quality partner-led advice but no glorified paralegals being paid more than most of the in-house lawyers in the team that I run!

Habeas Tortoise 17 May 24 08:54

Crust of Bread is right. It’s a nightmare. We are trying to recruit a 3-5 PQE at the moment and we are being presented with 1-2 yearers who trained in house having been paralegals and they want 75-80k. It’s 90k+ for what we actually need. 

That’s what I was on as head of legal until very recently. I’m 10+. Companies can’t pay this. I’m being laughed out of the room. Any expectations of salary growth for these kids is risible. 

Anonymous 17 May 24 09:37

As a c. 20 year PQE law firm partner, I look at this from a slightly different perspective. I too experienced (and probably at the time resented) bunching, but (holistically) what a decent NQ salary does is allow junior lawyers to make some interesting early career/life choices (buy a flat/home early on with a partner, etc.) recognising that NQs are not just for Christmas but will, hopefully, stay in the business for a period of time. The fact that they're "overpaid" relative to their experience (though this is a market led matter) in the early years simply is what it is. As we get more senior, my experience (at least) was that work-life balance generally gets (though perhaps only incrementally) better (the longest hours I worked were as a trainee and junior lawyer, albeit that was pre-credit crunch) so the fact that there is bunching (recognising greater experience but probably a better work/life balance/control over work) is perhaps also a fair compromise for those that do not become co-owners of the business.  

JJ 17 May 24 09:38

QE have some of the brightest NQs sourced from multiple jurisdictions. They work 2,100 plus hours and deliver real value in high stakes cross-border litigation / arbitration. They'll be drafting pleadings, contributing to litigation strategies and doing in depth legal analysis answering thorny procedural and substantive legal issues from the off. 

The UK legal market has been shaken-up by the US firms, with the magic circle falling behind, over the last 15 years for a reason. They are leaner (don't have banks of lawyers doing low level work) fitter (don't have equity partners contributing little more than an endless round of lunches and dinners in return for the profits) and deliver results for their clients. Sharing more fees with associates aligns interests and will deliver more success. 

LondonLife 17 May 24 10:08

I know a partner there and I have been for drinks with him and a few people working there. Absolute w@nkers is the politest way I can put it. I remember him telling me how he hadn't left the office in 5 days while working on a day the week before, like it was cool.
Fair play if you want the big bucks, but to say you have to give up your social life would be an understatement.

Will-I-Am Shake-spear 17 May 24 10:26

You are a GC sitting in the back of the Court during week 9 of a 24 week trial that you were advised to pursue after you had suggested 4 years earlier that you just settle the damn thing. You were so excited when the partner told you about all the trials he has done, how feisty he is, and how feisty you should be too. The excitement is gone now. The female NQ's £500 earrings glisten under the harsh fluorescent lighting in the Rolls Building as she pretends to look productive, but all the lighting in the world could not brighten the bags under her eyes. The flabby 6 PQE associate grunts as he hands a box of documents one of the barristers who is doing the **actual** heavy lifting in the litigation. "Not now!" the barrister hisses when the associate tries to whisper a "strategic" suggestion to her. He retreats to the corner and stairs at his Santoni Monk Straps. Two seats over the junior partner's Apple Watch rattles while he types out another social media post: "Another day fighting away in court in the DooDoo DumDum litigation. We are trial lawyers." This wasn't the partner who was pitched to you but apparently he is running the case now. The only running you have seen him do is when he ran away when asked him 18 months ago why the hell he wants to make another disclosure application. 

You blink. 3 more years have gone by. You lost. Still have to pay your lawyers' bills though. You have to pay the defendants' lawyers' fees too. The judge grumbles about the hourly rates of London firms while making a £20 million costs order. Technically all of the law firms are "on your side" now. In the comments section on a Roll on Friday article people are saying that in-house lawyers are dumb. Maybe you are...

@General Counsel 17 May 24 08:38 17 May 24 10:47

Where do you think partners come from? They don't fall out of the sky fully formed and ready for you to instruct - they come in as trainees, become NQs and slowly move up the ladder until a small number of them eventually become a partner and provide the "high quality partner-led advice" you (and most clients) want. That "high quality" comes from having done menial work on dozens (sometimes hundreds) of deals/disputes until they're completely familiar with the statutory framework, the documents, the commercial drivers etc.

Anon 17 May 24 11:34

Does anyone really think QE recruit "the best" just because they pay these sums?  No amount of money would induce me to work there.  

Brightest and best 17 May 24 11:54

I'm an in house lawyer 20+ PQE working in large FS companies.  All this brightest and best stuff is nonsense.  The vast majority of work is mid-tier national firm stuff.  There's a few big cases where you need big teams of London lawyers.  However, the detailed legal advice will be provided by very specialist Silks, not the fancy £700 an hour associate.

You need someone who can run a file day to day and get on with the other side to get to a resolution at the lowest cost, not some testosterone driven win at trial type.

As an in houser, my job is resolving disputes not taking more cases than necessary to trial in a no guts/no glory fashion.

There's no way any of these NQs are worth anything like those sums and it jacks up the hourly rates for me as the client.  It'll drive work out of London but that's no bad thing.


miserable britain 17 May 24 12:02

These comments are ridiculous. All lawyers in the UK should be grateful to the American firms paying the Cravath scale, which is a reflection of the the far greater dynamism and wealth of the American economy translating into - at least one industry in this poor country - finally being touched by competitive dynamics for labour. The fact that the lawyers on this forum are not happy about this - where the Cravath effect in London pulls ALL lawyer salaries up because of (essentially) resentment goes some way to explain why the UK has, almost alone among advanced economies experienced almost 0% real wage growth since 2008. 

The bottom line is that the UK is poor compared to the US and salaries compared to those across the pond are a pittance. God bless America and American firms for finally having some positive effect on wages in the UK. 

BurtRacoon 17 May 24 12:14

I was forced (by US GC) to use QE once to write a letter, £70k for the privilege and the letter was shit, never again. 

Anonymous 17 May 24 13:09

As someone who is currently looking for a NQ role, I can see both points of view. 

However, these headline grabbing announcement  are not a true reflection of the market at the moment. Unfortunately, there aren't many roles available (especially in my practice area) and hhundreds of people are competing for the same one or two roles that are released.

Anonymous 17 May 24 13:55

It's greed, pure and simple. Not market forces, or Team America's fault. In time, more and more businesses and in house lawyers will dare to trust the regional firms, just to avoid the greedy gits in London.  

Tom 17 May 24 14:03

To be fair if you are involved in litigation QE are absolutely formidable to have on your side. They are like pitbulls. They genuinely strike fear into the opposition and give them sleepless nights. 

Legal Journalist 17 May 24 14:16

Is Quinn Emanuel actually good? Their last two big decisions that attracted lots of publicity (Phones 4U and Republic of Nigeria) involved them getting trounced by Magic Circle and mid-tier firms. So is their sales pitch that they have lots of trial experience, even though a lot of the cases they take to trial are hopeless, and therefore this is why they are the best litigators? 

Response to Tom 14:03 17 May 24 14:50

When I receive an LBA from QE I know that the costs of the case are going to be triple what they should be.  They fail to understand that winning is not just a win at trial but a resolution of the matter that both sides can tolerate.  By their methods and approach they increase both sides' costs.  They are not formidable, they are just annoying.  Their mantras about "Trial lawyers" and "Litigation is a zero sum game" show their failure to have evolved beyond litigation to dispute resolution.

Reply to Tom 17 May 24 15:05

Total nonsense. They are much more like XL Bullies or possibly honey badgers, aggressive and ruthless are understatements (shudders)

@Habeas Tortoise 17 May 24 17:30

Oh no! The horror of having to pay people the salary that the market commands they can earn. 

Anonymous 17 May 24 17:49

I think that is ludicrous. As a nearly 15-year PQE person - I have never been paid close to that amount. Money isn’t everything and paying a NQ all that isn’t going to be career sustainable. When there is a mental health issue in the profession, I don’t see at all how this is meant to be a good thing. 

Anon 17 May 24 21:47

Isn't the advantage of Quinn that they are conflict free- as opposed to FF, Lovells, etc. They also have lots of bodies on the pitch- so more capacity than other boutiques

Anon 17 May 24 21:48

Most of the people crying in the comments will not think twice before accepting an opportunity to work at the firms they harshly criticise 😂

Crust of Bread 18 May 24 10:41

Actually there is a bigger problem for in-house GCs. For too long they have required a champagne service from their in-house commercial teams while paying beer money. The market is actually working and stopping that nonsense. 

QE admirer 18 May 24 13:32

Let's get real for a minute - Quinn are formidable legal opponents whose name strikes fear into the hearts of all other litigators in the market.  I've heard stories of how certain firms have to back away from instructions if they hear Quinn is on the other side.  I believe Bob Dylan's song "the Might Quinn" is inspired by the firm.  

Boston PI Lawyer 18 May 24 13:58

Pfff. Meanwhile I made $366,000 from a settlement in ONE personal injury case yesterday, plus a quick 20k on two other minor car accidents. The Quinn attorneys are chained to a desk for 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Meanwhile, I am working less than I ever have and making bank. Own, don't work for others. 

Anon 19 May 24 15:35

Boston PI Lawyer 18 May 24 13:58 - I think people who join QE have an intellect and are ambitious. They want more than being a PI lawyer in sole practice in Boston.

Pez Vela 20 May 24 19:09

Boston PI - you wouldn't happen to have an identical twin in the sandpit, would you? 

SecularJurist 21 May 24 11:55

As more of these NQ pay hikes for US/Big Law/ 'MC' firms emerge, so do impressions of Jesse Pinkman in chains making crystal meth for those white supremacists in Season Six.

Anonim 21 May 24 15:05

Why not to use sone other country lawyers, which they are cheaper then English lawyers.I hope that the clients are cutting a cost for this template based industry. What NQ can advise big client ? Do they think that they are more clever then Amazon, Elon Musk, Gates?

Anon 21 May 24 20:54

I came across QE a few times in practice.  To be honest, I thought the standard was higher elsewhere.  Sure, they pay a lot of money but you have to think about how other lawyers will regard your level training if you don't stay.

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