"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".
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".