us moneyman

'Try to poach him? Me?'

A Slaughter and May trainee has scooped a City of London Law Society prize for an essay addressing the threat to UK firms represented by US interlopers.

Arguing that the influx of "well-capitalised" US law firms had catalysed "unprecedented competition", Charlie Wells said they were "the key challenge facing City law firms, which must distinguish themselves to clients in order to survive".

The Company Prize 2021 is awarded annually to a promising City law firm trainee, and this year's applicants were judged on the basis of a 500-word essay entitled, "How must City law firms adapt, including through using the lessons learnt from present challenges, to thrive in the future".

Wells argued that UK firms needed to get ahead of their US counterparts by anticipating, specialising in, and publicising their expertise around growing areas of law such as climate change.

He also recommended UK firms adapt their working practices "to materially improve their working capital", giving the example of investment in labour-saving digital products.

Wells said, “I am delighted to have been chosen as the winner and I am grateful for the recognition and support I received throughout the process", while Slaughter and May told RollOnFriday, "We are really pleased for Charlie and congratulate him on his achievement. We enjoyed his essay and felt it delivered real commercial insight into the competitive challenges which exist within our sector".

In a tactful omission, Wells’ piece did not mention the gargantuan salary packages on offer from US firms as they engage in a spiralling salary war with each other, which has left UK firms gaping on the sidelines and subjected their talent and those they aim to recruit to considerable temptation.

Recent pay rises at City firms have seen Slaughter and May, along with Allen & Overy and Linklaters, paying their NQs a generous £100k when a bonus is included, while Freshfields and Clifford Chance are paying a basic salary of £100k.

However, some US firms are now offering up to 40% more. Milbank has hiked newly-qualified solicitors' salaries up to a bonkers £140,000, as have Davis Polk and Akin Gump - with other US firms expected to follow suit to keep up with their US siblings.

The winner:


Tip Off ROF


Anon 25 June 21 08:51

I would think that city firms are well aware of all these issues already.  However, the article doesn’t address the single most important threat at associate level - pay.  Presumably because this would have been uncomfortable, given Slaughters pay a lot less than the top US firms yet make comparable demands of their people.  

Anon 25 June 21 09:11

I don't really understand this. Shouldn't law firms always seek to develop their service offering, as the law and commercial realities evolve? Don't law firms always have an imperative to utilise technology to maximise efficiency?


Why does the presence of US law firms make this any different?

Anonymous 25 June 21 09:29

It is always worth reading what the younger generation thinks about work, and not just to measure the width of the generation gap. I can agree with most of the essay but question the idea of outsourcing work to third party lawyers. Invariable it incurs loss of skill and unexpected negative effects and later equally unexpected competitors. I can still remember the early days of outsourcing to China where the leading experts loudly proclaimed the Chinese would never be able to make their own mobile phones. And that was after Clayton Christensen had made his thoughts clear.

Monsieur Fairbrass 25 June 21 09:45

So in conclusion "do law firming more betterer". Surely nothing all firms don't know and aren't trying to do in one way or another.

Still, a lovely application form for an NQ job!

Anonymous 25 June 21 10:09

However, some US firms are now offering up to 40% more.*

*As a basic salary, plus bonus on top.

bananaman 25 June 21 10:49

City law firms are dead because they still operate on a "lift all boats" model where you do your time and get the rewards, but have implemented US style drawbridges to equity without coughing up current pay rewards for those that are doing the hard work. UK law firms scurry around for technology but, while some US firms might be backward (they aren't generally) in adopting efficiency focussed-technology, they harnessed the most basic technology to churn out high quality work from small teams. 

As technical legal knowledge has become commoditised (you don't need a vast library of internally generated research notes, and standard forms are dying at the high end level) and the "I know Quentin from the golf club" ways of work generation die out, paying for a big office where 50% of them are middle of the road grinders means there's not enough cash available to keep the cream interested when their chances of partnership are remote. 

Anonymous 25 June 21 16:05

The last section starts with a split infinitive but essentially summarises fairly aptly the current complaints which we are hearing from the junior ranks at Slaughters. Of course as everyone has already pointed out, the principal risk to City firms like Slaughters is that the good lawyers are increasingly leaving for better pay (and better hours nowadays) elsewhere. 

Attrition rate at Slaughters in 2020 is about to hit a record. We've already haemorrhaged tons of mid-level associates, and a second wave will come next Thursday after the June bonus is paid...

Anonymous 26 June 21 03:27

I'm sure the "superfluous backroom staff" are looking forward to working with the author.

Anonymous 28 June 21 09:57


>which we are hearing from the junior ranks at Slaughters

Or "Slaughtees" as we also call them.

Brian Scalabrine 30 June 21 20:15

It is about cash, which the kid does not mention.  Stop beating around the bush, US firms pay more so top talent go where the numbers make sense for the sacrifices made. 

Fake Partner 02 July 21 01:08

140k? Garbage plaintiffs' attorneys make that on a single decent slip and fall case in Boston. Do plaintiffs' work in the US if you want to make real money. 

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