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I’m a solicitor in a busy legal market – can I achieve a pay rise?
The most common question I am asked as a legal recruitment consultant when speaking to candidates looking for a potential move, is ‘how much can I earn?’.
Although a career in the law can be lucrative, the recession forced many firms to freeze their pay scales and a significant proportion of solicitors have not received pay rises for many years. Salaries have remained fairly static in the legal market in recent years, and although the market is showing signs of recovery, there remains a caution across law firms of all sizes.
In 2012 and so far in 2013 the legal market has been improving. With more work around, particularly in transactional areas, solicitors have been increasingly busy and often working longer hours. Valued lawyers in corporate, banking and real estate in particular are much busier than they have been in recent years, and are of course starting to ask when their hard work will be rewarded with pay increases.
Lawyers in the top tier, working at firms including Addleshaw Goddard, Pinsent Masons, Eversheds and DLA Piper, have always been well remunerated. However, despite the increase in work levels, pay rises internally (at least at the moment while the market continues to be cautious) will generally continue to be minimal – largely to avoid large pay differences between teams and across individual fee earners.
Areas in demand are currently real estate, corporate and banking. Niche litigation work is busy, such as defendant insurance, fraud and professional indemnity, but the commercial litigation market has remained static and employment remains steady. As a rule of thumb lawyers with 2-5 years post qualification experience across busy areas are most sought after, but NQ solicitors and junior lawyers with good transactional experience will have options elsewhere.
So does this mean that moving to another law firm will give you a significant pay rise? Not necessarily. If you are already at a top tier or national firm and roughly at a market rate for your level, significant pay rises will be largely unachievable. Firms are still looking for candidates who are seeking the opportunity to build their careers at a new practice, rather than those who are money motivated. Some law firms are choosing to make bonus payments to reward high achievers, rather than offer generous pay rises.
There is, however, positive news for solicitors at small or boutique law firms looking for a step up. With good experience in sought after areas, such as real estate and corporate, the national firms will be interested in recruiting you. With strong academics and solid transactional experience, now is the time to take a step up both in terms of firm and salary. As national firms generally have set pay bands for each level of PQE, if you are coming from a small firm on a relatively low salary, your pay rise could be significant.
I have recently placed a number of candidates in real estate and corporate roles who have managed to make the move from a small firm to the top tier and national practices. In one instance an NQ would have achieved c.£25,000 when qualifying at their current firm but moved on qualification to the top tier on £37,000.