The majority of lawyers were mainly satisfied or neutral when it came to their salary. 35 of the firms in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2020 survey were given a score 50% to 74%, a deafening overall rating of “meh”.

There were of course strong opinions behind the scores. At national firms, pay variations between offices caused consternation. At Mills & Reeve (74%)  a partner said that salary was "fab for living in Norwich" while a colleague in Birmingham was equally pleased. But the firm was drubbed in Cambridge where pay was "the same as the other regional offices, where you can get much more for your money". One Cambridge lawyer complained that salary should rise "to reflect the cost of living". A London-based lawyer said his salary wasn't competitive in the capital as there was pressure by the firm not to raise them too much as "colleagues in regional offices repeatedly refer to London salaries when moaning about their salaries".

At Burges Salmon (72%), one lawyer said that they received "Bristol pay" despite doing "City work and City expectations". But a junior lawyer said that pay was decent for Bristol and colleagues who moaned about it "should maybe just move to London".

At TLT (66%) a content lawyer said that the firm "pays very well for Bristol, without having to do the crazy hours of other firms here i.e. Burges Salmon or Simmons & Simmons."

Regional pay was also mentioned at Charles Russell Speechlys (71%) where a junior lawyer in Guildford crowed "out here in the 'regions' I am paid significantly more than I could get at any other firm nearby." 

"The pay isn't terrible, but it's a bit of a slap in the face to be 10 years qualified and know that a London NQ earns significantly more than you do" said a senior lawyer at a regional office in Addleshaw Goddard (70%). The pay divide was also a sore point for a lawyer at Pinsent Masons (59%) who said he received a "decent wedge for the regions" but it was "demoralising when you realise that a clueless NQ in London takes home more than a 5yr+ Senior Associate."


JC

How the associate sees the flush NQ. 


Other associates in the regions took a more sanguine outlook. At DLA Piper (65%) a junior lawyer said "I'm in a regional office - we have the usual complaint around the fact that we are paid circa £30k less than our big city colleagues" but "given the size of my car/house/garden compared to my London colleagues of the same PQE I'm fairly content with my pay". 

Pay table

A number of lawyers assessed their salary satisfaction based on their industry. A senior lawyer at DAC Beachcroft (73%) said that although pay was "not particularly high" it was "fair considering work/life balance and the rates we can charge insurer clients". At Ince Gordon Dadds (70%) a lawyer said that pay was "broadly in line with market for our sector, and not bad given far less hours than the Magic Circle etc. but I'd like more!" A junior lawyer compared salary with other shipping firms and concluded that pay was "better than Clydes and HFW" but "worse than Reed Smith or Stephenson Harwood". 

For some firms, the fairness of pay varied between departments. "Lawyers in the corporate and finance teams are underpaid whereas insurance and real estate are likely overpaid against the market" said a CMS (59%) lawyer "as one size does not fit all." 

A number of lawyers compared their salaries to the massive wedge received by their counterparts at US firms. While most Hogan Lovells (71%) lawyers were satisfied with pay, one lawyer said that for corporate work, salary was "middle of the road" and the firm was "haemorrhaging juniors (who don't work materially fewer hours) to US firms in the transactional teams." 

A senior lawyer at Clifford Chance (69%) said that he worked the "same hours or at most 10% less than US peers" for "30% less". But another lawyer at CC felt the salary was "excellent given that I don't have to put up with the sociopath partners and insane billing targets regularly encountered at US firms".  At Dentons (63%) one junior lawyer said that "in certain departments you have people doing US firm hours for Dentons pay, and then the partners are surprised when associates leave to do the same hours for twice the money."

An Allen & Overy (66%) trainee also noted the disparity in beastings between departments, as salary was "generally fair" but depended on the department as "it ends up being not quite enough in those teams where you sacrifice your life and health while the associates/seniors go home on double your salary and leave you to it."

Other lawyers felt that they were benchmarked against the wrong firms, and this was reflected in salary. A senior lawyer at Womble Bond Dickinson (58%) said "we like to pitch ourselves work wise against the likes of Burges salmon, OC and Simmons, but our pay lags well behind those firms and is more on a par with smaller regional outfits." 

Other lawyers were more happy to compare their lot with other firms. At Ashurst (54%) a junior lawyer said salary "could be more, but actually stacks up relatively well against the market given our hours are nowhere near as savage as MC or (shudder) US."

The summer pay rises for NQs  as City firms joined the gold rush didn't go down well with all associates higher up the ladder. At Herbert Smith Freehills (68%) while NQs were "delighted", a junior lawyer said it "resulted in some fairly extreme disparities" as "the pay gap between NQs and associates with 3PQE is now, in some instances, a mere £6k".  And a junior lawyer at Eversheds Sutherland (63%) said the firm "scrambles to keep up with the NQ market rate, but fails to adjust the salaries of more senior associates accordingly. The result being that 4+ PQE solicitors are faced with relatively high expectations in terms of client relationships and billing but only marginally more remuneration than the NQs".

"My opinion will undoubtedly not be very popular at all among my peers, but I think we're paid too much" said a candid lawyer at Freshfields (64%). "Come on, which NQ is really worth £100,000?  I know it's over-inflation due to US market pressure, but this is all just getting a bit silly now."  A lawyer at Linklaters (57%) said he was "considering going back to being an NQ. The difference in pay between an NQ and a mid-associate is now only £50k and I'd probably find it less stressful."

At Norton Rose Fulbright (51%) a senior lawyer complained that the NQ rises in salary "resulted in some NQ salaries being only 1 to 2k less than a 3/4 PQE salary. There haven't been consequential pay rises across the board. This has not gone down well."  It remains to be seen whether firms take the Slaughter and May's approach and increase salary for associates

Other lawyers bemoaned measly pay rises. "Despite having been with the firm for over 12 years," a senior lawyer at Capsticks (59%) said, "this year's pay rise was less than inflation and in no way reflected my performance or appraisal grade."

Lawyers, of course, took into account bonuses, not just base pay when considering salary satisfaction. "We work less hours than other Magic Circle firms, and get paid a standard bonus regardless of whether you've had a busy or quiet year" said a senior lawyer at Slaughter and May (68%) "what's not to like about that?"  At Kennedys (63%) one lawyer complained that "it feels like the partnership are always trying to avoid coming up with decent bonuses."  At Baker McKenzie (59%) while the majority of lawyers were satisfied with pay, a junior lawyer grumbled that "our bonus system is a joke. You can hit your targets and get the best appraisal but only receive a 3-4% bonus".

At Watson Farley Williams (50%) a senior lawyer said "They recently decided to get rid of the xmas bonus and told us it was included in the pay review (which was effectively non-existent)." A junior lawyer said pay "would be fine if there were a less terrible bonus system". 

Some firms offered other financial benefits aside from standard bonuses. At DWF (61%) a senior lawyer said "given DWF is now a big name player on the London Stock Exchange, the allocation of shares to employees was very well received."

Work/life balance was more important to some lawyers than an astronomical salary. "We could all work elsewhere for more" and "buy multiple sports cars" said an RPC (67%) partner, but he valued the firm's "people and focus on treating people well".  At Shoosmiths (67%) a senior lawyer said although salary was "probably a bit lower than some competitors" it was "the trade off for better work/life balance."  The salary at Clarke Willmott (61%) is "not world beating" said a junior lawyer "but the compromise on pay is more than compensated for in the near normal life you can lead outside of work commitments".

A junior lawyer at Irwin Mitchell (65%), who may wish to rethink his social-circle, reported that because of his lowly salary "when I go out with friends at other City outfits they do a mocking whip-round for me at the bar."

Lack of transparency around pay was brought up by a number of lawyers. A Bird & Bird (64%) lawyer said when he asked HR about salary bands "they couldn't think of any good reasons why they should share it." 

Minuscule pay rises, or none, were a source of contention for other lawyers. "No pay rises at BLM (52%)" said a business services member of staff, who revealed "this year we received a letter saying how 'pleased' our managing partner was to give us a 0% pay rise. Obviously a template error, but pretty much sums up this employer."

At Burness Paull (52%) a senior lawyer said there were "very poor increases - God forbid that the partners should take home slightly less than the average of circa £350K, instead the employees suffer with no bonus and very poor pay rises.

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Anonymous 31 January 20 10:26

If they don't like it move to London, I live in the North West and don't regret leaving behind the pollution and black bogies for one moment. 

Anon 31 January 20 11:53

Burgers Salmon lawyers in Bristol keep telling themselves they do “city work” but the reality is they don’t do anything at the high to mid end, and aren’t international, and they don’t charge city rates which is the whole point.   

They have an office in the City which does some City work.   
 

Anon 31 January 20 11:57

If you’re going to work in the regions, better to work at a true regional firm that has an established local or regional presence and is managed from that base.  The worst combination is someone like Clydes where in the regions you may get the name and access to the same clients albeit at low grade work, but are offered as a cheap volume centre, looked down upon by the city lawyers and clients, paid quite poorly particularly if you live in an expensive city, with no chance of meaningful progression and the regional partners don’t control strategy or pay.   Plus you don’t have any real connection with the local community because your clients are in London but paying low hourly rates which are lower than you could charge to local businesses.  

Anon 31 January 20 14:47

Burges Salmon is a regional firm, packed with people who are not good enough to work in the City. 

anon 31 January 20 17:16

I suspect a number of lawyers at BS are “good enough” but choose not to work in the City for various reasons. But I agree that the firm does not do city work generally.  This is a mantra often trotted out by regional associates who have never themselves worked in the city and have no idea about what it is like in terms of relentless pressure and hours and demands from clients and partners at the larger firms. It is not comparable to work in the regions, even if the quality at places like BS is good and they do well.  

Anonymous 31 January 20 20:48

The Bristol office of Simmons pays very badly. Lower quality work farmed out to the regions as a low cost solution.

Anonymous 01 February 20 09:17

Nearly all regional offices are taking the piss with salaries. I get 65k at 8pqe despite being dual qualified. In London I would be on 100k-120k. Before anyone states the obvious I can't move to London due to family reasons (caring duties for parent and disabled child with a special care plan).

@ Anonymous 09:17 03 February 20 10:08

You get paid market rate.  If you didn't, you could move elsewhere in the same City you are in for more.  

Anon 03 February 20 13:26

People only work in the provinces if they are not good enough to practise in London. Accept that, and earn what the market deems you to be worth. 

Anonymous 03 February 20 15:28

@10:08 - 3rd February 

Am at top of market for my city. Been confirmed by 2 local recruiters I have spoken with recently. 

Bob 03 February 20 15:54

@ Anonymous 13:26

 

That's patently untrue, there are some excellent lawyers outside of London and some dreadful ones within it.  Nevertheless, if you choose to work outside of London you cannot complain about being paid a non-London salary. 

Anonymous 03 February 20 21:45

Bob - while I am in partial agreement about that you need to factor in that a lot of regional lawyers have similar billing targets to London colleagues and the difference in cost of living between London and the regions is not reflective of the salary difference.  

Escaping Puppy 04 February 20 06:23

Dare I say is but London salaries also reflect the stupidly high cost of living.  You need about £450k to buy a half-decent one bedroom flat in a part of town that isn't stabsville.  

You can buy a perfectly acceptable 3 bed semi in many parts of 'the north' for £175k.

Factor in the above and the hugely inflated costs of day-to-day living in London and someone earning £65k in Yorkshire or Lancashire is probably, relatively speaking, earning the equivalent of someone on £100k in London.

 

Anon 04 February 20 10:13

Having worked both in the regions and for top city firms, I can safely say that the quality of legal analysis and work by partners at leading regional firms is on a par with city firms, often because the partners are more hands on and have smaller teams.  However, the pressure and hours in the city and the corporate environment is what differs quite markedly.   All nighters and very long hours are not common in regional firms and turnover is less, staff more valuable because there isn’t a huge pool of alternative labour (as in London esp at the junior end) so staff are treated better (other than pay) in the main when it comes to work life balance.  
 

Really it’s the appetite to devote huge parts of your life to one thing often at the cost of family and relationships, but with the reward of status, kudos and money that separates the best in the regions (who could work in the city but choose not to) and those who do work there.  
 

Of course, the market also finds its level and many who work in the regions are less ambitious or not good enough to get into the city at trainee or junior level and then it is harder thereafter.   

 

LDN TING BBE 04 February 20 14:28

Regional lawyers are the grimmest.  Had to deal with a Leeds-based data protection lawyer from a US city merger firm towards the end of last year.  She was bafflingly stupid.  

Anonymous 04 February 20 16:33

@Anon

If all the regional firms are "taking the piss" maybe that's just the market rate in the regions? Also - dual qualified in what? I'm dual qualified (EW/NY) and don't expect a salary bump. Finally, the average house price, in say, Leeds is £250K, vs London (which can mean living in Norwood or Acton) is £600K. You are welcome to London on 120K and either have a massive commute or rob a bank to get a family house.

 

 

Anon 05 February 20 05:04

Anon 04 February 20 10:13: I have worked at both City firms and leading regional firms and the quality of lawyering was far higher in the City. People find their level. You are in the regions because you are not good enough to cut it in London. End of.

Anonymous 05 February 20 07:25

Too obviously trolling pal. There are plenty of reasons people leave the City. Lack of ability isn’t usually one of them. It’s about quality of life innit

Anon 05 February 20 17:24

@ Anon 05 February 05:04

I know many excellent lawyers working outside of London who were certainly "good enough to cut it in London" (and did so for many years) but now enjoy healthy family lives when they are not being entertained at work by deluded kids from City firms too misguided by entitlement to reach any level of competence.  It is always amusing hearing the confidence drain away from an overpaid cookie cutter as soon as things get complicated until eventually their designated grown up swoops in to save the day.  

Anon 05 February 20 17:31

Anon 5 Feb 05.04am.     On your argument then, a partner in a large regional firm earning £300k is a worse lawyer and less successful than a senior associate who can’t make partner who is earning £150k.   That clearly isn’t the case.    Experience is of course anecdotal.   There are regional lawyers and there are regional lawyers.  
 

Some are not good at the bottom end - agree entirely - and couldn’t make it but my point is that actually a number make a positive choice not to live and work in London not because they can’t hack it but because they make life decisions not based on what the city demands / offers.  Long hours in front of a screen aren’t attractive to some people.  It doesn’t mean they aren’t good lawyers.   Also, by “city” what do we mean?  Magic circle or Us firm?  Or a smaller mid size outfit or west end firm?   Similarly, in markets like PI and other insurance litigation, the work is being sent to the regions that used to go to the city so city firms are being represented in neg claims by firms in Bristol etc who are all highly competent.   
 

 

Anon 06 February 20 04:55

The quality of English lawyers decreases the further you get from the City. “Lifestyle choice” is a dishonest fig leaf. The very worst end up in the offshore jurisdictions, where they act as post boxes for onshore firms. 

Anon 06 February 20 06:03

“On your argument then, a partner in a large regional firm earning £300k is a worse lawyer and less successful than a senior associate who can’t make partner who is earning £150k.   That clearly isn’t the case.”

That is clearly not the argument and you are either too stupid to grasp it or a troll. You have to compare like with like. Regional partners are not as good as City partners and the same applies at associate level.

Anon 06 February 20 16:14

“You are either too stupid to grasp it or are a troll”. 
 

Ah, the good old ad hominem approach to responding to an opinion with which you disagree.  A sure fire way to show that you’re losing the debate.    The original post did not make any distinction between job roles but merely made a generalised claim that all regional lawyers were not good enough to work in the city.    A partner in a city firm can earn less than a partner in a regional firm, as it depends on the comparison (and your “like for like” doesn’t help you);  and in terms of legal ability, as I’ve already explained, there are plenty of highly educated lawyers in the regions who make a life choice not to live and work in London but who could have done so.   I’ve worked in both good regional firms and also elite city firms, and the best lawyers in the regional firms are as able as many in the city - but are not as ambitious in terms of making money.  
 

 

Stab city legal 06 February 20 17:54

This thread with the London lawyers and their huge chip and over-sized ego is hilarious. Anyone who thinks you are (pound for pound) a better lawyer by virtue of simply being in the square mile hasn’t the faintest idea about practicing law. Yes for £100k what did you do? Draft emails for the partner to approve? Copy a chapter out of Scrutton on Charterparties? Or did you draft a “research note” for your super senior associate (or whatever made up title they’re given after 15 years of languishing in the job)? This is busy work. They need your fancy CV to charge your paralegal skills out at £450ph. By fancy I mean, admittedly, exceptional academics, but zero legal skills. 
 

Most regional lawyers actually practice law and at the equivalent level are capable of undertaking legal work, as opposed to glorified paralegalling. 
 

Most interesting is the chip; London lawyers kidding themselves that lonely lives, failed relationships, pokey flats which are barely lived in and being chained to the desk is not a mark of a sad life for which money is no compensation, but a mark of greatness!!