US Law Firms Push London Law ‘Pay Wall’ Into The Stratosphere

Milbank offer long-working first year lawyers to $200,000 a year . . but some are buckling under the pressure despite the money

The pay war in London has been lead by US law firms, who continue to push the pay boundaries with $200,000 a year for first year lawyers now being paid by Milbank.

The payWall Street law firm Milbank has ramped up pay for first year lawyers in London to $200,000 amid a mergers and acquisitions boom that has seen junior lawyers working long hours from home on deals. And some are buckling under the pressure of intense M&A deals with high work demands at their home-offices, suffering from burnout from stress and isolation.

The eye-watering legal pay made by US-based London law firms has always created headlines in the UK and elsewhere, as we have also reported. Milbank said on 10 June that it was increasing pay for first year associates from $190,000 to $200,000 across a number of regions including the UK, according to a memo seen by Financial News.

Junior lawyers at the firm are set to receive a pay boost dependent on seniority, the memo said, with the scale topping out at $355,000 a year for lawyers who started practising in 2013, an increase of $15,000 from their previous salary of $340,000.  

Associate lawyers in Milbank’s other offices in the US, UK, Asian and Brazilian offices are all in line for pay increases according to the memo.

“We thank you for your tireless efforts, dedication and resilience. Have a great summer,” Milbank chair Scott Edelman wrote in the memo.

Junior lawyers at top UK and US firms, including those in the Magic Circle firms that have been at the forefront of big pay increases, have been struggling with a combination of pandemic home working and an M&A boom that has led to associates working long hours remotely.

“We feel a bit like wage slaves at the moment,” a newly qualified solicitor at a US law firm in London.

Milbank’s salary raise is the latest move in a round of pay inflation for lawyers over the past year following better-than-expected performance among top firms during the Covid-19 crisis.

Milbank’s pay boost is likely to be followed by more top US law firms which typically peg junior pay to the most generous firm in the market; The American Lawyer reported that McDermott Will & Emery has already matched the increase.

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