The Best-Paying UK Law Firms – And The Average Lawyer Earnings
The highest-paying law firms for trainee lawyers in the UK can vary depending on the year and the source. However, some of the law firms that are consistently mentioned as offering high salaries for trainee lawyers include the Magic Circle firms (Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, and Slaughter and May) and US law firms such as Latham & Watkins, Kirkland & Ellis, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (source: The Student Lawyer).
According to the search results, the average salary for a lawyer in the United Kingdom is £53,875 per year (source: Indeed).
However, other sources suggest that the average salary for a lawyer in the UK can range from £25,000 to £200,000 depending on experience and location (source: Jobted UK).
Pay Cuts Loom in UK Law
Major US and UK law firms, which witnessed soaring bonuses in 2021, are now experiencing a sharp reduction in payouts due to a significant decline in dealmaking, leading recruiters in the UK have said.
The Financial Times reported recruiter Michelle Fivel, a partner at the recruiter Major, Lindsey & Africa, which places associates in top 200 international firms, the six-figure sums that junior lawyers received as sign-on or retention bonuses have virtually disappeared by the end of 2022.
She said that the frenzied market conditions of 2021, where such bonuses were a necessity to compete with rival firms, are no longer prevalent, and firms now believe they can secure candidates without resorting to massive incentives.
The peak of bonuses was observed in 2021, with the world’s highest-grossing law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, reportedly offering $250,000 to mid-level lawyers entertaining offers from other firms. Additionally, a recruiter mentioned that another law firm was providing sign-on bonuses of $100,000.
During the same period, other major US law firms, namely Paul Hastings and Goodwin Procter, were offering referral bonuses of $50,000 and $30,000, respectively, to lawyers recommending new associates. This trend coincided with a surge in M&A activity as economies rebounded from pandemic-induced lockdowns.
However, the situation took a downturn following a rise in interest rates, leading to a significant drop in dealmaking. Several law firms, including Cooley, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, Goodwin Procter, Davis Wright Tremaine, and Shearman & Sterling, announced job cuts as a consequence.
A survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters Institute revealed that US lawyers billed fewer hours in 2022 compared to any other time in decades, and data from Decipher Investigative Intelligence showed a 14% decline in the number of associates moving to different firms compared to the previous year.
London-based headhunter Chris Clark, director at recruiter Definitum Search, mentioned that in October, they witnessed three associate deals where new firms postponed buying out bonuses until the end of December, causing a delay in the associates’ resignation.
In the midst of the hiring frenzy, one UK firm reportedly paid $250,000 to retain a star associate who was considering an offer from a US competitor. The top US firms in London were also offering sign-on bonuses ranging from $20,000 to $120,000.
Additionally, some law firms handed out two rounds of “special” bonuses during 2021, on top of the usual year-end payouts, to show appreciation to associates for their hard work during the pandemic, leading to record earnings for many lawyers that year.
However, the excessive bonuses and salary hikes experienced in 2021 have now subsided as the market cools off, according to Chris Clark. Freddie Lawson, a recruiter at Fox Rodney, echoed the sentiment, stating that hiring has returned to normal levels, with sign-on and retention bonuses being less common, only used in exceptional circumstances.
According to the search results, some of the legal jobs in the UK that offer the most money or salary include:
- Barristers: Barristers are specialist advocates who represent clients in court and provide legal advice. They can earn upwards of £100,000 per year, with the top earners in London earning over £1 million per year (source: Prospects.ac.uk).
- Corporate lawyers: Corporate lawyers work on behalf of organisations and can earn high salaries, with the national average salary for a corporate lawyer in the UK being £70,850 per year (source: Indeed).
- In-house counsel: In-house counsel are lawyers who work for a company or organisation rather than a law firm and can earn high salaries, with the average salary for an in-house counsel in the UK being £87,500 per year (source: TotallyLegal).
- Government lawyers: Government lawyers work for government agencies and can earn high salaries, with the average salary for a government lawyer in the UK being £62,500 per year (source: TotallyLegal).
It’s worth noting that salaries can vary widely depending on experience, location, and other factors.
The Big-Earning Big Law Firms
Among the famed “magic circle” law firms, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has taken the lead in compensating its full equity partners, who earn an impressive average of £2.09 million.
Despite a modest 1% increase in partner pay last year, Freshfields managed to surpass Clifford Chance, where partners disclosed an average pay of £2 million.
Freshfields also reported noteworthy growth in revenue, experiencing an 8% increase, reaching £1.84 billion.
This marks the firm’s seventh consecutive year of revenue expansion. While their performance is commendable, they find themselves positioned at the lower end of the elite magic circle firms.
Allen & Overy secured the top spot with a turnover of £2.1 billion, slightly ahead of Clifford Chance’s £2.06 billion.
Additionally, the annual revenue of £1.9 billion at Linklaters has intensified the competition between the two firms, as analysts consider them arch-rivals.
Like many other City law firms, Freshfields had to confront inflationary pressures, particularly in terms of rising staff costs and escalating starting pay for junior lawyers, which has inevitably affected overall profits.
In contrast, Slaughter and May, the fifth member of the magic circle group, adheres to a more traditional partnership model and is not obliged to publish a financial statement. It is widely regarded as the wealthiest among the magic circle firms, with its partners estimated to earn an average of approximately £3 million each.
Average Salaries of UK Law Firms
The statistics on average pay from Chambers Student website, outlining those firms that participated in the research into trainee lawyer starting salaries in the UK.
How much do trainee lawyers and NQs earn?
The table below shows the public salary information for all firms taking part in our research. We collect salary data for first-year trainees, second-year trainees, and newly qualified lawyers.
|Firm||1st year salary||2nd year salary||NQ salary|
|Addleshaw Goddard||£52000 [London] £33000 [Leeds and Manchester] £29000 [Scotland]||£56000 [London] £36000 [Leeds and Manchester] £33000 [Scotland]||£95000 [London] £62000 [Leeds and Manchester] £56000 [Scotland]|
|Arnold & Porter||£55,660||£59,290||Undisclosed|
|Ashfords||£32000 (Exeter Taunton Plymouth); £35000 (Bristol)||£34000 (Exeter Taunton Plymouth); £37000 (Bristol)||£52000 (Exeter Taunton Plymouth); £55000 (Bristol)|
|B P Collins||£26,400||£27,400||£42,000|
|BDB Pitmans||£37500 (London); £30000 (Reading)||£40000 (London); £32000 (Reading)||£62,000|
|Birketts||£27500 (Ipswich/Norwich); £28500 (Chelmsford/Cambridge); £31000 (London)||£28500 (Ipswich/Norwich); £29500 (Chelmsford/Cambridge); £32000 (London)||£46000 (Ipswich/Norwich); £50000 (Chelmsford/Cambridge); £65000 (London)|
|Blaser Mills Law||£30,000||£30,000||£40,000|
|Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner||£48,000||£52,000||£95,000|
|Charles Russell Speechlys||£47000 (London); £37000 (Guildford); £35000 (Cheltenham)||£50000 (London); £40000 (Guildford); £37000 (Cheltenham)||£55000-£80000|
|Clyde & Co||£42000 (London); £28000 (Manchester)||£44500 (London); £30500 (Manchester)||£80000 (London); Undisclosed (Manchester)|
|CMS||£43000 (Bristol); £31500 (One North); £28000 (Scotland); £50000 (London)||£45000 (Bristol); £34500 (One North); £31000 (Scotland); £55000 (London)||£65000 (Bristol); £57500 (One North); £57500 (Scotland); £100000 (London)|
|Covington & Burling||£50,000||£55,000||£151,000|
|Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle||£45,000||£50,000||£90,000|
|Davis Polk & Wardell||£60,000||£65,000||£165,000|
|Debevoise & Plimpton||£55,000||£60,000||£145,800|
|Dentons||£45000 (London); £31000 (Milton Keynes); £25000 (Scotland)||£50000 (London); £34000 (Milton Keynes); £28000 (Scotland)||£92000 (London); £60000 (Milton Keynes); £60000 (Scotland)|
|DLA Piper||£50000 (London); £34000 (rest of UK)||£55000 (London); £37500 (rest of UK)||Undisclosed|
|Dorsey & Whitney||£45,000||£50,000||£82,000|
|DWF||£38000 [London]; £26000 [Manchester Leeds Liverpool Birmingham]; £22000 [Scotland]; National Living Wage [Belfast]||Undisclosed||Undisclosed|
|Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer||£50,000||£55,000||£125,000|
|Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson||£55,000||£60,000||£158,000|
|Gateley Legal||£35000 (London); £27000 (all other offices)||£37000 (London); £328500 (all other offices)|
|Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher||£55,000||£60,000||£161,700|
|Herbert Smith Freehills||£50,000||£55,000||£120,000|
|Hill Dickinson||£28000 (Northern); £39000 (London)||£30000 (Northern); £41000 (London)||Undisclosed|
|Hodge Jones & Allen||£28,000||£30,000||£40,000|
|Hogan Lovells||£50000 (London); £29000 (Birmingham)||£55000 (London); £32000 (Birmingham)||£107500 (London); £46000 (Birmingham)|
|Irwin Mitchell||£28000 [Regional]; £40000 [London]||£30000 [Regional]; £42000 [London]||£41500-49000 [Regional]; £55000-£73000 [London]|
|Kennedys||£41000 (London); £29000 (Regional); £22000 (Scotland)||£44000 (London); £32000 (Regional); £25000 (Scotland)||Undisclosed|
|Kirkland & Ellis||£60,000||£65,000||$215000|
|Latham & Watkins||£50,000||£55,000||$215000|
|Leigh Day||£34000 [London] £27200 [Manchester]||£36000 [London] £29200 [Manchester]||£50000 [London] £40000 [Manchester]|
|Lewis Silkin||£42000 [London]; £31500 [Cardiff]||£46000 [London]; £34500 [Cardiff]||£70000 [London]; £52500 [Cardiff]|
|Marriott Harrison||£40,000 (from Sept 2024)||£42,000 (from Sept 2024)||Undisclosed|
|McDermott, Will & Emery||£50,000||£55,000||£135,000|
|Michelmores||£32000 (Bristol and Exeter); undisclosed (London)||£34000 (Bristol and Exeter); undisclosed (London)||£55000 (Bristol); £52000 (Exeter); £70000 (London)|
|Mills & Reeve||£30000 (Birmingham Cambridge Leeds Manchester Norwich)||£32000 (Birmingham Cambridge Leeds Manchester Norwich)||£55000 (Birmingham Cambridge Leeds Manchester Norwich); £78000 (London)|
|Mishcon de Reya||£45,000||£50,000||£90,000|
|Morgan, Lewis & Bockius||£50,000||£55,000||£150,000|
|Morrison & Foerster||£60,000||£65,000||$215000|
|Norton Rose Fulbright||£48,500||£53,000||£105,000|
|Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe||£50,000||£55,000||£130,000|
|Osborne Clarke||£45000 [Bristol] £51500 [London] £46350 [Reading]||£47000 [Bristol] £53500 [London] £48150 [Reading]||£69000 [Bristol] £90000 [London] £81000 [Reading]|
|Penningtons Manches Cooper||£41000 (London); £35000 (Regional)||£43000 (London); £37000 (Regional)||£60000-70000|
|Pinsent Masons||£30000 [English regions]; £45000 [London]||£33000 [English regions]; £49500 [London]||£61000 [English regions]; £92000 [London]|
|RBG Legal Services||£40,000||£42,000||£70,000|
|Ropes & Gray||£57,500||£62,500||£147,000|
|RPC||£37000 (Briston); £44000 (London)||£38000 (Bristol); £48000 (London)||£56000-£85000|
|RWK Goodman||£34500 (London); £28000 (all other offices)||£36000 (London); £30000 (all other offices)||£52500-£59000|
|Shearman & Sterling||£50,000||£55,000||£145,000|
|Simmons & Simmons||£50,000 (London); £44,000 (Bristol)||£55,000 (London); £46,000 (Bristol)||£105,000 (London); £69,000 (Bristol)|
|Skadden, Arps, Meagher, & Flom||£58,000||£63,000||£165,000|
|Slaughter and May||£50,000||£55,000||£115,000|
|Squire Patton Boggs||£30000-£47000||£33000-£50000||£55000-£95000|
|Stevens & Bolton||Undisclosed||Undisclosed||Undisclosed|
|Sullivan & Cromwell||£60,000||£65,000||Undisclosed|
|TLT||£41000 [London]; £34500 [Bristol]; £30000 [Manchester]; £23500 [Glasgow]||£44000 [London]; £36600 [Bristol]; £32000 [Manchester]; £26500 [Glasgow]||£75000 [London]; £56000 [Bristol]; £51000 [Manchester]; £45000 [Glasgow]|
|Trowers & Hamlins||£40,000||£43,000||£80,000|
|Vinson & Elkins||£50,000||£55,000||£159,500|
|VWV||£28000 [Bristol & Birmingham]; £33000 [Watford]; £36000 [London]||£30000 [Bristol & Birmingham]; £35000 [Watford]; £38000 [London]||£48000 [Bristol & Birmingham]; £54000 [Watford]; £60000 [London]|
|Watson Farley & Williams||£47,000||£50,000||£90,000|
|Weil, Gotshal & Manges||£60,000||£65,000||£160,000|
|White & Case||£52,000||£57,000||£140,000|
|Willkie Farr & Gallagher||£55,000||£60,000||£145,000|
|Womble Bond Dickinson||£28000-£42000||£30000-£44000||£50000-£78000|