The Rising Salaries at London's Top Firms and What it Means for NQs
The top solicitors in London have never been short-changed but with more and more US (Cravath paying) firms opening offices in London, there is increasing pressure for Magic and Silver Circle firms to continue to up their base salaries or offer more desirable alternatives.
At the top end of the scale, Morrison Foerster, Latham & Watkins and Kirkland & Ellis have all just made a major uplift on their Newly Qualified salary to over £180K annually. Over thirty other firms pay their new start solicitors over £140k in London but what does this mean for NQs?
It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog that Solicitors at the top London firms work extremely hard but exactly how hard is where the shock factor emerges. It’s not uncommon (I’d even go as far as to say it’s fairly common) for a Junior Solicitor at one of the aforementioned firms to be working fourteen or more hours’ days, with no rest at the weekend either. The new starters have a false equivalence towards their work due to a corporate culture that breeds and normalises overworking.
An NQ can expect to drop everything on a weekend when an email comes through to say something needs finishing ASAP. Jay Harrington wrote on LinkedIn, “If you're a lawyer assigning a project via email, your ‘ASAP’ might really mean 2-3 days from now. To the Junior Lawyer receiving the request, however, it might mean drop everything and cancel dinner plans.”
This is where the false equivalence comes into play. NQs believe that they are expected to work themselves to the bone because of the incredibly high salaries but this isn’t necessarily the case. Yes, the top firms want to secure the best talent and to do so need to pay the highest wages but that in no way means a Junior Lawyer should be working a ninety-hour week.
Post-pandemic, this is a realisation that lots of juniors are coming to accept: there are plenty of Magic Circle, Silver Circle and large international firms that are paying exceptional wages, not working their solicitors to the bone and even offering work-from-home days.
There are exceptions to this. Skadden, for example, has introduced two days of work from home and both Latham and Kirkland are following suit. However, that culture of meeting eye-watering billable target hours doesn’t go away. As an antithesis of this, Clifford Chance recently made the statement that it wouldn’t be raising its NQ salary any time soon to keep pace with the other top firms but still have very similar excepted target hours in the region of 2000 annually.
To round off and conclude today’s blog post, prospective NQs and current Junior Solicitors reading this need to ask yourself: how much is your time and energy worth to you?
There’s no need to be extemporaneous with your decision to join a firm because it flashes a large number at you. Consider the quality of work, the work culture the firm provides, the support they offer you, the approachability of the partners and, finally, how hard you’re okay with working. The top firms will work you incredibly hard but your experience and remuneration will be second-to-none.
If you are a London-based Solicitor or are looking to find your first position in the city, contact Robert Riley at firstname.lastname@example.org.