empty safe

It's not this bad tbh.

14 firms couldn't muster scores to push them to 50% for satisfaction with pay in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2021 survey - compared to just four last year.

At the highest-scoring of the low-scoring, the salary review process at Squire Patton Boggs (49%) "is way too opaque with all decisions being made in the USA by people who don't know you", complained a senior SPB solicitor. It "doesn't pay market rates, and hasn't ever done so", said a junior solicitor, "but the differences sadly grew wider in recent years. On the other hand on most days I do absolute f-all...and I still bag £82k a year no sweat. Plus I've now been making phat money from day-trading Bitcoin so it's all good".

"I shouldn't complain too much", said a senior solicitor at BLM (46%). "I'm being paid for, what is in essence, old rope. I could easily be replaced by a spreadsheet". "Recently we hired a chump on not much less pay than me", said another senior solicitor, "and I manage the chumps. Made me feel great". 

"Pay isn't great, let's be honest", said a BLM colleague. "But they have been fantastic throughout this covid episode. No pressure whatsoever to go into the office, flexible hours of working, plenty of work coming in. But given all competitors are doing the same, pay will definitely be the differentiator. BLM simply must improve salaries to stay relevant". 

"Bit of a shame there's no pay rise this year", said a senior solicitor at Clyde & Co (44%) about 2020. "Then again, my salary is five figures higher than at my last firm, where I did pretty much the same job with longer hours, and I'd be willing to bet those poor sods aren't getting a pay rise this year either. Or possibly ever". A Clydes partner said their latest partner remuneration review had been an "eye-opener. Always motivational to see a colleague with same billing figures paid half a million more and those with half the billing figures paid double what I get. And no, I'm not a service partner". 

Covid meant that 1PQEs at Charles Russell Speechlys (42%) were "being paid the same as NQs and we're already quite underpaid for the market anyway", said one. Others raised a recurrent complaint of firms with regional and London offices: "With work from home it's becoming more difficult to stomach the massive difference between London office pay and the other UK offices", said a CRS lawyer, adding that it was "Galling as a mid-senior lawyer bringing in work to be getting paid the same as an NQ".

Like CRS, lawyers at Capsticks (39%) said "There's a feel of unfairness that those in regional offices are so much lower paid than the London office - especially as we are remote working now and will be in future (we've been bought all the stuff we need to wfh...forever..?!)" 

There were Freshfields (39%) respondents who said the pay was "excellent", and "solid" for trainees, and that there was a "Solid NQ salary if you stay on, too". But the feeling that "we work US hours in exchange for top English pay" was a frustration that some respondents from the Magic Circle firm couldn't tamp down, "particularly when I see trainees who were [not good at human interactions] here getting mega bucks at US firms". Plus, "Pay was frozen at the start of the pandemic, and reviewed later in the year... only to remain frozen (despite record numbers of hours across the firm)", leaving lawyers "watching our new neighbours at Kirkland and Latham take home their covid bonuses". 

"Some people get a little salty when they compare their pay to the firms we often work against ("Magic"/"Silver" circle and Americans)", said a junior solicitor at Watson Farley Williams (39%), but "we definitely are not underpaid and our salaries match the firms around us in the rankings (by turnover)". Then again, "Ugh", said a WFW colleague: "*Googles synonyms for 'woeful'*" 

At Fieldfisher (37%), pay was "Low given the firm's financial success" according to a junior lawyer, while at Womble Bond Dickinson (34%) a senior solicitor said there had been "An effective pay freeze of at least 2 years, pitiful pay increases in the years proceeding" and "bigger targets every year which appear to defy economic reality". 

Slaughter and May (31%) arrived at the bottom of the Magic Circle for satisfaction with pay. "Whilst it was understandable for the firm to freeze pay temporarily in March when the initial cash flows froze for a while and there were liquidity issues, the firm is now profiting massively from its associate workforce", said a lawyer at the elite firm. "A number of groups, including the one where yours truly works, have seen record billings and everyone has been slammed for months on end. All associates who progressed through the pay bands were duly charged to clients at higher rates than previous, but their salaries remain frozen. It's somewhat galling when from one day to the next the clients have to pay £100 pa more than previously for your work, but you don't see even a penny of that money". Eh, was the view of some Slaughters colleagues. "Getting paid 100k with a good bonus for no hourly hours target is a pretty sweet deal", said a junior solicitor.

Knights, where the CEO recently sold some of his shares in the firm for £61 million, scored 27%, while Golden Turd 2021 Slater and Gordon scored 26%. But Dentons took last place for pay with 24%. "Perhaps understandably, they've delayed pay rises due to COVID", said a Dentons solicitor. "However, we were already behind the market (they haven't reviewed the pay bands in years) so they can't just blame the virus. There are plenty of NQs at US firms making double my salary despite having no idea what they're doing". A senior solicitor said he was "Not very happy about taking a 20% cut for six months, and then having to work 5 days a week anyway". But, like staff at other firms, some Dentons solicitors called for patience. "It really depends on the 2020 bonus (if any)", said one, "and whether 2021 base pay is increased".

foty pay chart 2021


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Anonymous 05 February 21 09:29

*Important note for grads*

This is about how people *feel* about their pay rather than what they are paid. Plexus, Shoosmiths, Irwin Mitchell and Hill Dickinson are absolutely not in the same ball park as Mishcon, Bird&Bird and A&O...

Anonymous 05 February 21 11:13

Hardly a shocker.

Those London and US firms working for large corporations charging extravagant hourly rates will clearly pay more than those handling volume litigation on panel insurer rates. 

PenPusher 05 February 21 11:30

Fieldfisher at 37%, not shocked especially as the managing partner was moaning to the FT about paying NQs high salaries and distorting the market & his fat paycheque. What a...

Anonymous 05 February 21 11:34

Not surprised to see Capsticks there. Issues with pay have been bubbling under the surface for some years. There was always a disrespect for the regional offices. Anyone moaning at a magic circle firm is suffering from first world problems. 

Girlzone 05 February 21 12:43

09.29 today is 100% correct. Is what you are paid fair for what you are asked to do? That’s what matters. Not how much you earn. I work at Plexus and gave top marks for pay as I get a very fair reward for my hours worked and my experience. I would certainly earn more at Clyde and Co, for example, but they work much longer hours and get loads more sh!t to deal with. And yes, I know that first hand as my spouse works there. We’re both fairly paid and treated. It’s just that I have 2-3 hours a day of more spare time than him. 

Realist 05 February 21 14:09

To 12.19pm today : er, No! You can’t have good pay but bad work life balance. The 2 are linked. If your life is crap and out of balance, you are not being paid enough. That’s really the sum of it. 

Outraged associate 05 February 21 15:33

Bravo SPB management: 49% for the ongoing debacle with pay cuts, target hour hikes and opaque bonus structure sounds about right. 

Greedy turbok*unts the lot of them.

Girlzone 05 February 21 17:18

To 15.09 today: and....?


Have you anything to add?  If that’s fair pay for the work required, what’s the problem?  If that’s too low for NQs to feel fairly treated then they need to leave. 

Former C&Co 05 February 21 23:18

The point about Clyde & Co is that it’s good pay (relatively) for PQE 1-5, then it is a joke with minimal increase and expectation for effort in exchange for a non-existent “carrot” in a toxic environment. That is why so many talented people leave post 5 yrs PQE.

Momoney 06 February 21 08:39

I made the mistake of joining Freshfields and its position hasn’t got much to do with the horrendous hours. It’s about the firm doing over all but the partners’ favourite few in the annual appraisal and pay review shaft-fests. No amount of cash can compensate for working for so many bullying nutters. 

SnrAssociate 06 February 21 18:58

I'm a senior associate at a firm near the bottom of the list. I wish I got paid more, and for that reason wouldn't say I'm totally happy with my pay. But then I look at other firms that pay a chunk more (an amount that would actually make any difference to my life after tax) and wonder - would I have to give up more of my free time? Would it have the same friendly culture I work in? And based on conversations with friends, I think the answer to those questions is - yes to the former and no to the latter. You really can't have it all in this industry, you get paid what you work for. Anyone else in the same boat? 


Anonymous 07 February 21 10:55

One of the firms here has made much of two of its lawyers championing flexible working in a legal magazine this week. It missed off that those registered in the London office keep their higher London salary but can work from anywhere. It would be great to be a lawyer living in Blackpool having a wonderful time being paid a London salary and riding the Big Dipper on their lunch breaks.  

Anon 07 February 21 21:51

Clydes’ NQ pay actually varies depending on the dept.   You won’t get £68k in insurance litigation.  And this is still very modest given that self respecting international firms outside the magic circle pay at least £75-80k, and several quite a bit more.   


Anonymous 07 February 21 22:41

You can get to London in commutable time from plenty of cities, including the one I live in. I might get a job at Capsticks. 

Anonymous 08 February 21 09:27

@18:58 That’s maybe true at junior associate level, knowing from experience that junior associates can have a mixed experience at MC firms (some get off lightly) whereas they’ll be beasted at US outfits. But it’s not true at senior level - if you’re running a case, then it will take up you’re life no matter where you are. It’s not better, but it’s certainly not worse. 

As for culture, that just depends on the outfit. Some outpost US firms are grim, but the more established ones can be decent (often staffed by those who left MC firms). Remember, Stockholm syndrome is real. 

Anonymous 08 February 21 12:01

I for one feel desperately sorry for these poor fee earners clearly being paid a pittance. A mere sixty or seventy odd grand for an NQ to learn to wipe their own bum? Disgraceful. 

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