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Staff at US firms Debevoise & Plimpton (93%) and Ropes & Gray (93%) are the most satisfied with their pay in UK private practice, the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2021 survey has found.

"I'm 27 years old earning over £200k (including bonus) - what is there NOT to like?" said a junior solicitor at Debs. That's not to say there are no issues, they're just from a different world. "One of the partners likes to tell associates that he's underpaid and people like me are overpaid", said a Debevoise junior solicitor. "He was moaning before lockdown that a mistake by his accountant on his taxes meant he couldn't afford that new Bentley he wanted” they (hopefully) joked. “My heart bled". 


foty pay


Several green-eyed lawyers at other firms referenced Kirkland & Ellis (92%) as the ultimate big-spender, and its lawyers agreed, placing it joint second. "Would be insane to complain", said a Kirkland partner. "Money, money, money, I love $$$ money $$$", commented a junior K&E solicitor. "If it's all about the money for you there is literally no reason to go anywhere else", suggested her colleague. 

Latham & Watkins (92%) came joint second. "Those that complain about the fx rate need to get some perspective!!" advised a senior solicitor at the US firm. Unaware of that advice, a colleague complained that pay was "no longer market leading due to the awful USDGBP conversion rate floor in place", understood to be 1.45, although pay was "still very good".

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2021 Keystone Law (92%) placed joint second thanks to its keep-what-you-kill set-up. "It's based on what I bill, so I have only myself to blame if it's subpar!", said a partner. "Literally the best way to be remunerated", said a senior solicitor: "No time wasters taking margins off your work".

White & Case (85%) placed sixth, with delighted lawyers commenting that increasing NQ salaries to £130,000 and trainee salaries to £50,000/£55,000 "during the pandemic sends a strong signal to all our competitors, and in a time where people are having troubles keeping their jobs, I should count my blessings".     

"To get a sizeable pay increase during the Covid year?! Are you kidding me? Anyone who complains needs a quiet word with themselves" said a junior White & Case solicitor. "I'm one of those perpetual complainers who secretly hates law, but it's hard to gripe about a 25% pay rise in the middle of a global pandemic", said another. "£200,000 pa, plus 10% bonus for 1,800 hours - a pretty good deal", said a senior solicitor. Another looked up from his calculator to observe that, "While not quite the same level as the sponsor shops over at K&E or L&W, pay is pretty damn good by any objective measure".

Staff satisfaction with pay at Shearman & Sterling (84%) placed their firm 7th. "Fantastic", said a junior solicitor. One lawyer referred to "some grumbles in London around COVID bonuses for NY associates", but accepted those would be received by outsiders "to a background of small violins". And, noted a colleague, salaries were "also significantly more than what an 24-28 year old should rightfully make, so go figure".   

Corporate powerhouses Macfarlanes and Travers Smith shared 8th with 80%. "Considering the economic climate and COVID-19, we weren't expecting an increase in pay this year, let alone two bonuses", said a junior solicitor at Macfarlanes. Macs' reported salary "does not include bonuses", explained a colleague, and lawyers "usually get c. 8-12% performance bonus (not dependent on hours) and an additional 7% if the firm hits its revenue targets (which it nearly always does)". 

"Could I earn more elsewhere?" asked a senior solicitor at Travers Smith. "Yes. Do we sometimes all bitch about how many hours we put in and grumble that we may as well go to a US shop? Yes. But realistically I haven't needed to give money a second thought since I qualified, the number carries on going up every year and I still have my soul and genuinely like 90% of my colleagues". 

Travers' approach to money during COVID was decent, said a colleague. "Can't really complain on 100k+", said the junior solicitor. "It was a little annoying over the summer when they froze pay band increases, but I think everyone understood why - and in full fairness, they backdated pay rises when they came through in December which resulted in a Christmas quasi-bonus for everyone".    

DAC Beachcroft (79%) made an unexpected appearance in 10th place, with several solicitors commenting that so-so pay was a trade-off for their work/life balance. "Its obviously rude to talk money but I'm not sure DACB knows what market rate is. They rely on the work life balance and decent environment to keep you in", said one.

Pay at Mayer Brown (78%) was "not as great as other US firms but still ridiculously big", said a junior solicitor, while at Hogan Lovells (76%), in joint 12th for pay, "We already get paid a frankly ridiculous amount, and with the recent rises in NQ salaries I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth", said a junior solicitor.
    
Sharing 12th was 3xRollOnFriday Firm of the Year Mills & Reeve (76%), where pay was "Good when taken together with flexibility and lifestyle advantages", according to a senior associate. Plus, said a senior solicitor, there's a bonus "that actually gets paid out across the firm, fairly, without it being something like a mythical creature". 

There were a few grumbles that M&R's salary reviews were "recently deferred again until the end of the firm's financial year (May 2021) even though the firm is outperforming last year's pandemic-free figures by all key metrics", but, said another lawyer, "I'm feeling grateful that the R* word has never been in question for any staff at all. I'm just happy to keep my job".

Two other former RollOnFriday Firm of the Years, Burges Salmon and Osborne Clarke, rounded out the super-satisfied firms in joint 14th place on 75%. Their staff expressed a similar outlook to Mills & Reeves' lawyers. "Obviously I am not paid London rates - but I don't work London hours and get to live rurally which suits me much better", said a Burges Salmon senior associate. "No pay cuts, bonuses paid and pay unfrozen in January - all much better than the situation at friends' firms", summed up a colleague.

"It's not top-of-the-market pay but it is still competitive, and for me it is enough, especially in view of the work/life balance", said a senior solicitor at Osborne Clarke. "I was happy with the 7% paycut because I trust the executive board to know what they're doing", said a junior solicitor, adding, "I'd rather take 7% paycut than face a tap on the shoulder, or have colleagues face it. I'm also very happy to be getting it all back".  The refund "shows how fair the firm is", agreed colleagues. 

"The challenge going forward", said a junior solicitor, "is how OC (and all firms) can justify location-weightings. I can't be alone in thinking they can't be justified now we're all at home in our jimjams. There will need to be some serious rebalancing when the Covid-jabs are done".

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Comments

Bitter and twisted? 05 February 21 09:47

Great that the lawyers in these firms are all happy with the outrageous amount of money they get. I’m sure business services staff would have a different view - no pay rises, smaller (much) bonuses and in some cases no bonuses and redundancies. 

Sensible 05 February 21 09:57

Business services are not profit generating and are much less qualified than lawyers...

Anon 05 February 21 10:28

Not ALL business services staff are "much les qualified" - in fact it is sometimes the opposite - with those in client-facing roles just as much responsible for revenue generation. All staff play a role in generating profits. Sad to see such an antiquated, myopic view here from "Sensible". 

Gristle 05 February 21 10:34

In response to: Sensible 05 February 21 09:57

Hmm. I can understand your point about profit-making - but they wouldn't be making as much money if they were picking up their own sandwiches, arranging their own travel, finances, meetings, marketing, accounts, training etc etc

And in terms of qualifications, that's such a generalisation - and quite insulting really. I know many business support staff who are degree qualified and beyond...myself included. 

 

 

 

Anonymous 05 February 21 10:38

@sensible. I seriously doubt you have any insight into who and what drives profit at a law firm. 

Anon 05 February 21 10:38

Last time I checked business services hadn't slaved away at law school for 2-3 years and competed against the sharp elbowed hoardes to get a TC, at large sacrifice. Greater risk = greater reward.

Anon 05 February 21 10:53

Macs and Travers lawyers must really love their work or colleagues, can’t see any other reason for them not to move to US/MC.

Pretty much same hours but better pay (definitely at US arguable for MC too). 

Former Legal IT 05 February 21 11:35

Good insight into how lawyers feel about the help. Don't take it personally it's just that these lawyers get put through the ringer so the result is zero respect for anybody outside of their tribe. You either suck it up or get out of the legal industry when the opportunity presents itself. 

Anonymous Person 05 February 21 11:54

Sensible... it appears you don't actually have a very good understanding of how a law firm operates - it's not all about profits. 

What about business services staff that save the company upwards of £1m in costs from procurement? That is usually more than juniors bill in a year. 

What about recruiters that save the company money in agency recruitment fees, and ensure people are in quickly to ensure that huge amounts of money isn't lost when there isn't enough resource to complete the work. 

What about the BD professionals that assist in winning pitches, that Partners simply don't have to do all the background work for? 

The graduate professionals who you wouldn't have trainees without to continue the success of the business?

You sound silly. 

 

Anonymous56 05 February 21 11:56

To Anonymous at 10:30

What an ignorant statement. Many have spent years training in their own specialist, incredibly competitive fields before even considering taking their professional careers into a law firm - for instance, accountancy or journalism.  

Oh dear 05 February 21 12:09

“Business services are not profit generating and are much less qualified than lawyers...”

So a Firm’s general counsel, risk team, CFO and other directors (to name just a few) are all superfluous and not qualified are they?    Must be why they are paid hundreds of thousands and sit on the management boards of many firms. 
 

 

Anon 05 February 21 12:24

Anon @ 10:53: For Travers I believe people loving their colleagues is a perennial problem in itself. 

Anon 05 February 21 12:26

Anon at 10:58 - I did actually. I chose the business services route after law school because for me personally it was more fulfilling. It doesn't mean I don't work hard or that I'm not vital to the business. 

Very ignorant statement. I would actually argue that while there is a large pool of technically astute lawyers for law firms to choose from, finding the best business service staff that will actually lead to the success and further development of your firm can be much harder.

A bad lawyer can affect client relationships, of course. But a bad business professional at the top end can lead to the firm's collapse. Law firms should be trying to hold on to their best business services people for dear life. 

Anon 05 February 21 13:55

I'm a qualified lawyer who worked in a large commercial law firm before shifting to business services because I found it more interesting. I can tell you that at senior levels in major law firms there are some seriously talented and hard working business services professionals that help the firm be much more profitable than if it were left solely to partners to run. Yes, there are roles in business services that require less training and aptitude than qualifying as a lawyer but to generalise shows either naivety or arrogance. The trend to more professionalised management will continue as the business of law continues to become more complex and crosses over with other disciplines such as technology and consulting. Those that invest in top talent here will reap the reward in years to come. 

Anon 05 February 21 14:12

Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to Sensible and just say he or she is naive about how law firms are run and doesn’t understand how Business Services operates.  I get the sense he or she thinks everyone there just orders sandwiches for client meetings or reads ROF to see if the firm is referenced.    As has been said already, BS comprises a range of roles and includes lawyers (most of whom have all either worked in the private practice teams there or elsewhere) and accountants, so it’s clearly not true that no one is professionally experienced or qualified.  Roles like the GC and CISO and CFO are all significant roles that directly impact the firm, its strategy, and how it’s managed and director roles (of BD, IT, Procurement  K&I etc) in large firms require experienced people who are often paid more than senior associates (certainly the GC, CISO and CEO) who in some firms are paid more than some partners.    They all report to or are members of the firms’ management boards and drive strategy in a way an associate who does 8-10 hours of billable time in one small area of work whose revenue is capped.   
 

 

Anon 05 February 21 14:14

correction: 
 

Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to Sensible and just say he or she is naive about how law firms are run and doesn’t understand how Business Services operates.  I get the sense he or she thinks everyone there just orders sandwiches for client meetings or reads ROF to see if the firm is referenced.    As has been said already, BS comprises a range of roles and includes lawyers (most of whom have all either worked in the private practice teams there or elsewhere) and accountants, so it’s clearly not true that no one is professionally experienced or qualified.  Roles like the GC and CISO and CFO are all significant roles that directly impact the firm, its strategy, and how it’s managed and director roles (of BD, IT, Procurement  K&I etc) in large firms require experienced people who are often paid more than senior associates (certainly the GC, CISO and CEO) who in some firms are paid more than some partners.    They all report to or are members of the firms’ management boards and drive strategy in a way an associate who does 8-10 hours of billable time in one small area of work whose revenue is capped can’t do.   
 

 

Anon 05 February 21 15:06

"I chose the business services route after law school because for me personally it was more fulfilling"

You find helping lawyers win work fulfilling? Cool. I didn't realise people were actually in this game because they found it 'fulfilling'.

@ Anon 15:06 05 February 21 16:26

There is no need to be rude about what others find fulfilling. 

I work in diversity and inclusion so yes, I personally do. For example, it's incredibly rewarding working on strategies to attract gifted individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds who want to make a difference, rather than plodding along with people who supposedly don't find a legal career fulfulling at all. Did you have everything handed to you, by any chance?

 

Anonymous 06 February 21 09:34

I'm a regional lawyer approaching 10PQE on £60k. Reading these salaries makes me pause for thought! 

Also Anon 06 February 21 23:43

Anonymous on 6 Feb - I have to ask, what region are you in? Just so I know where not to relocate to. 

Anonymous 08 February 21 13:53

@ 23:43

 

Am in the South West. 

 

Clearly took a wrong turn in my life!

Terrence Woo 09 February 21 17:28

"I was HAPPY with the 7% paycut because I trust the executive board to know what they're doing", said a junior solicitor at Osborne Clarke...

Does anyone really believe that response wasn't written by a member of the OC board/ HR team masquerading as a junior associate?

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