It's no secret that US firms offer the best bucks, and as a result they dominate the top of the table for pay in RollOnFriday's Firm of the Year 2013. But there are a few more surprising entrants in the top 20, revealing that firms don't need to shower staff with cash to keep them satisfied.

Kirkland & Ellis, which last year bumped its NQ pay up to £97k, scored a perfect 100% for its salaries. And the vast majority of respondents cited the pay as the best thing about working at the firm. With the pay comes an expectation that lawyers will work "brutal hours", but that is "countered by how well they treat us". The same was true of Shearman & Sterling (92%), where "fantastic pay" combined with a "friendly and inclusive environment" and a "great support network".

Contrast this with Latham, which also pays top of the market salaries (NQs get over £96k) but which only scored 82% for pay (seventh place). It's not a shabby score but significantly down on last year's 97%. Why the lower score? Well the money may be good but "miserable hours" and "ball-breaking partners" make Lathamites feel unloved.

Firms such as Ince & Co (90%) and Burges Salmon (76%), fourth and eleventh respectively, also scored highly for satisfaction with pay. And while their salaries are nowhere near those offered by the US firms, both firms did considerably better for work life balance. As one Incer put it, the firm is "not top of the charts in pay, but you get to work on proper international work without becoming some sort of law troll that never leaves the office". And Burges Salmon staffers were pleased with "annual bonuses", "pay rises" and a salary that is "probably the best in Bristol". So clearly it's not all about the filthy lucre, it's about staff feeling properly rewarded for the hours they put in.

However, there were some truly woeful scores down at the bottom of the table. Golden Turd winner Irwin Mitchell (20%) took last place for pay, slammed by the majority of respondents for salaries that "have stayed stagnant despite excellent results" and "exceptionally poor pay reviews" combined with "major increases in billing targets". One lawyer added "the partnership profits are vast but the proletariat see none of it".

And the situation seems little better at DAC Beachcroft (27%) where, according to one respondent, NQs are "now on 10% less than the equivalent two years ago". Another claims there has been "no pay review for the past five years" and "not a cat in hell's chance of a bonus". And Blake Lapthorn (28%) was given a pasting for its "atrocious salaries". According to one lawyer "even if you do go over 40% of your billing target there's no bonus, so why bother?".

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Anonymous 01 February 13 14:55

I loved it at Irwin's every year the head of BD would tell us that because of the economy pay rises wouldn't be happening, then come the results of the company being released we were all supposed to be slapping each other on the back.

Poor form chaps, my pay since I left has gone up over 10% in three years, my friends at IM still on the same wages.

Anonymous 01 February 13 22:02

What was totally pathetic was Irwin Mitchell publishing the results of its own survey to try and put a positive spin on things. This came the day after the golden turd was won. The pay, conditions and lack of prospects can all be denied on the back of some survey that tells a different story to the well deserved golden turd result. Hopeless