A survey from UK legal blog Roll on Friday identifies the top paying UK law firms – and the irony (perhaps) is that the top echelons of the rankings are all US-based law firms, which have lead the rush to increase associate pay levels to unprecedented levels.
Top firm in the rankings with a 92 per cent take-home ranking is Sidley Austin, followed by Kirkland & Ellis (88 per cent), Debevoise & Plimpton (87 per cent), Latham & Watkins (86 per cent) and Ropes & Gray (81 per cent).
The first UK firm in the top 10 is Burges Salmon in 8th place and it was also the firm voted as the best law firm to work in 2022, the two key components of satisfaction being the pay and ‘having a life’.
Among the top 10 in the ROF list are Macfarlanes and Travers Smith. The take home pay at Macfarlanes is £200k in total this year as a 4PQE including special bonuses.
The pay at Travers “isn’t as ridiculously high as US/MC firms, but it’s still a huge amount of money by any normal standard and reflects the lack of chargeable hours targets to chase,” said a lawyer. Another agreed: “We’ve had a couple of pay rises this year which doesn’t hurt. Also, they brought in free food at the excellent staff canteen which is a real plus”.
At the bottom of the list is the surprise addition of biglaw big name Slaughter & May and BLM.
Slaughter & May’s scores suffered due to pay freezes and being late to the game in raising salaries. “No wonder partner payouts are the highest in the city – associates’ hours are akin to US firms (and relative to other Magic Circle firms) but their pay is considerably less”. Another lawyer agreed: “Partners are the best paid in the City because associates are not.”
The bottom listee was BLM (37%), which was accused of “Not keeping up with cost of living increases, never mind actually rewarding good work, or exceeding targets”.
“I forced a pay rise out of BLM (which is still below market) and I am sworn to secrecy” said a colleague. “I will probably be waiting 5 years for another.” A BLM partner advised focusing on the positives: “It’s BLM, so it’ll never set the world alight, but their pay needs to be seen in the context of what they ask of you. Most NQs at US firms make more than me, but then I’m usually playing Mario Kart in my pyjamas at just gone 6.00pm, so swings and roundabouts”.
It is clear that big money is still obtainable at UK law firms and the recent associate pay increases with the US law firms raising the stakes shows that money remains all-but-everything, but the increasing expectation of ‘a life’ with the money is also a growing requirement. Whether its achievable at these stages in younger lawyers’ careers remains very much an open question.