Latham & Watkins has come first for pay in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2017 survey.

Staff at Lathams, which was Firm of the Year in 2014, scored it a perfect 100% for salary satisfaction. It means all the respondents rated the wedge as 'excellent' at the firm. Last year it scored 96% in the category. But staff are even happier this year after it raised salaries in London to match US pay. It put Lathams NQs on £124,000.

A 4PQE associate at the firm (where they are paid approximately £180k) said, "Obviously the pay is crazy good", and it's even better considering that in the London office, "we get all the benefit of the New York firms' salary wars without having to do the same hours". Nor do they arrive saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars of law school debt like their US counterparts. A Lathams 3PQE (paid £170k), pointed out that while compensation is around the "top of the market", he is "currently missing out on 90k per year [a slight exaggeration] compared to contemporaries at K&E". That's because while Lathams' UK pay is pegged to US pay on a fixed exchange rate, Kirkland's UK pay is pegged to US pay on a floating exchange rate, with the result that pay rises when the pound is weak, as it has been following the vote for Brexit.

Six spots within the top 10 were taken by US firms, including Weil in joint second, where NQs are paid £115k. It shared the podium with Freshfields, which received credit from its lawyers for bumping up salaries beyond the rest of the Magic Circle, a "well-received" move which put NQs on £85k. 

Firm of the Year 2016 Shearman & Sterling came fourth, but the happy ones mostly remained silent. Instead, staff described the new split which now exists between the US firms in London which have raised pay to US levels, and those which have not. Pay is "still excellent", said a 3PQE (who are £110k at Shearman), but some other US firms "have moved their pay and bonuses significantly up". It means the once acceptable sight of US-qualified lawyers in London earning "substantially more than their English-qualified peers" is now beyond the pale.

    You always knew when you were working with Clayton G Jackson III 

Boutique private equity powerhouse Travers Smith came fifth with 79%. Staff said its "good" salaries "generally keep up with the Magic Circle (if a year behind most of them)" and gave it credit for an "egalitarian bonus" paid to all, which last year was 7.5% of salary. One lawyer said it "was great for me - I deserved it far less than others", while another said she was "more than willing to accept in return for no billable hours targets". The firm, said another lawyer, "has a good reputation for its culture and its well deserved - I've never been happier in a job". It means that, "while I do look slightly wistfully at the salaries offered by the big US outfits, I'm not remotely tempted to jump ship". 

There was a similar feeling at Firm of the Year 2017 Burges Salmon. Based in Bristol, staff said the pay was "excellent for a regional firm". A few people mentioned the "elephant in the room", a "Brexit-inspired pay freeze". Management "appear to think that the stereotypical British reserve and reluctance to discuss such vulgar things amongst ourselves would mean they don't need to advertise it", but "with revenue at an all time high it is a bit of a kick in the teeth". The overwhelming majority of staff, however, still consider themselves "well paid to do top quality work", while "having plenty of time to spend with my family in a lovely part of the country - no complaints from me". Even some of the complainants weren't too concerned: "Other than the minor niggle over pay, what's not to like? Wonderful firm, lovely people, in an amazing city". 

BS tied with Linklaters and Kirkland & Ellis. The money at Kirkland is, said one "insane", with one 4PQE listing the firm's attractions as "The money, progression, the money and the money". Linked to the dollar but re-pegged every few months to keep up with the collapsing pound*, it means NQs who were on a colossal £125,000 last June are, at the current exchange rate, set to rake in an eye-watering £143,000. It is, said another, "absolutely incredible. I mean, I always thought it was good but then Brexit happened and - BOOM! It has silenced all internal criticism, which is a shame because the treatment meted our by partners on deals is sometimes inhuman". Not quite all criticism, which is why K&E, despite paying the most in the City, isn't top for pay satisfaction. "Don't get me wrong", said a senior associate, "the money is good. But make no mistake - it is a faustian pact. They own you and they don't feel any shame or guilt in abusing you when it suits them. Some people are lucky and have a reasonable time of it. Others get pounded (and the partners use the vaseline with the grit in it)".

Mayer Brown came ninth with 76%, although here, too, lawyers raised the split between US firms paying US wages in London and those that don't, referring to finance associates who "keep getting poached" by the new breed of even bigger "moneybags US firms". And Clifford Chance, White & Case and Herbert Smith Freehills all snuck into tenth place with 74%. The other firms on the Top Pay Satisfaction Table did pretty well, too. Find the rest in the skint corner.

*although UKIP has a warning.
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Anonymous 03 February 17 11:49

"The overwhelming majority of staff, however, still consider themselves "well paid to do top quality work", while "having plenty of time to spend with my family in a lovely part of the country - no complaints from me."

Almost anyone who works in a decent Bristol firm will say that. We all know people get paid significantly more in the City, but the fact that you genuinely have a good work/life balance makes it worthwhile for most people.

Anonymous 03 February 17 12:29

Latham's pay is great but it isn't £124k for NQs - with the exchange rate it's more like £115k