UK law firms are dropping junior lawyers’ pay rates following pay rises that they claim are unsustainable. Now the trend is increasing with the top firms following suit.

Masons calls time on tech-boom salary war as Hammonds and Osborne Clarke rein in assistant pay. Masons has slashed its pay benchmark for junior lawyers by nearly 10% — becoming the first top 50 UK firm to seriously reverse the “unsustainable” pay hikes of 2000 and 2001.

The shake-up of the national firm’s pay structure, which is expected to save about £200,000 a year, will see newly-qualified pay cut from £47,000 to £43,000 from next month.

The move is the most significant sign yet that the market has shifted after pay for junior lawyers soared by 50% at the height of the dotcom boom and comes as Hammonds and Osborne Clarke also confirmed moves to rein in assistant pay.

Hammonds’ cut will see its benchmark for City newly-qualified lawyers fall from £47,500 to £46,000 while Osborne Clarke has ditched its policy of automatic promotions to associate level as part of a root-and-branch review of pay.

Masons’ cuts, however, are far deeper and include lowering pay for first year trainees by £1,000, while second year trainees will receive £27,000, a drop of £3,000. The firm has also cut its trainee intake to 18 this year, against a previous intake of around 30.

None of the changes to pay are expected to hit lawyers above newly-qualified level.
Commenting on his firm’s decision, Masons senior partner Martin Harman said: “Salary rises in recent years have been substantial and probably unsustainable. It makes us more attractive to our clients who will see that we are not giving pay rises and then passing off the cost on to them through our bills.”

In April Clifford Chance announced that it was to cut its newly qualified salaries by £2,000 to £48,000, but most of its leading City rivals have so far held base pay at the £50,000 benchmark set in 2001.

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