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Money, money, money

Which firms are paying the most money this year? Good news – many firms have upped their associate pay in the last 12 months. By how much they’ve increased their salaries, however, differs from practice to practice.

By Editorial Team. Published 10 August 2018. Last updated 08 March 2022.

As ever, the US firms lead the way. White & Case and Shearman & Sterling recently boosted London newly qualified (NQ) pay to a huge £105,000. Elsewhere, Jones Day and Vinson & Elkins increased London lawyer salaries to £100,000 and £120,000 respectively – impressive rises of 18% and 20%.

Amazingly, we’ve seen bigger salaries from the Americans in the past. Who can forget the firms who once paid their year one US associates a breathtaking $180,000 (133,082)? Certainly not those practices who started to pay their London associates the same dollar-tied salaries. After Brexit, when the shock referendum result triggered the value of sterling to drop against the US dollar, Kirkland & Ellis ended up paying salaries of £147,000 – around £60,000 more than the top-paying magic circle base salary.

Kirkland has recently (and unsurprisingly) introduced a salary cap, although it still pays its junior lawyers around £140,000.

Other major City firms have also increased their NQ salaries this year. Linklater, the capital’s largest training contract provider, upped base pay from £77,500 to £78,500 – and it says that new lawyers could earn up to £90,000 with performance-dependent bonuses. Similarly, Macfarlanes increased base pay for NQs to £75,000 with the chance to earn up to £90,000 with add-ons. Travers Smith and Pinsent Masons boosted their pay for new lawyers by five per cent to £75,000 and £68,000 respectively.

It’s not just the London firms who are upping their pay; the regions have boosted their salaries too. Bristol NQ salaries at CMS went up from £47,000 to £49,000, while first year trainees now earn £37,000, up from £32,000. Meanwhile DLA Piper and Pinsent Masons increased regional English salaries to £42,000 (rises of two per cent and five per cent respectively).

However, the pay gap between London and the regions continues. The main reason for this is the cost of living: the average London home costs £474,000 while renters pay out an average of £925 a month. Compare that to Belfast, for example, where you’ll pay an average of £160,000 for your home, or £520 on monthly rent. Add to this the longer hours that London trainees and associates are expected to work.

Corporate law, then, still leads the way when it comes to pay – depending on where you live, and whether you’re happy to work into the small hours.

Find out how you can get in on earning from the big firms with our law qualifications.