Legal Salary Surveys
Private practice legal salary surveys - 2022
BCL Legal undertakes research into legal professional salaries and benefits by region on an annual basis.
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- International, National & Commercial Firms
- Regional and Niche Commercial Firms
- General Practice
- Paralegals - London
- Paralegals - in the Regions
- Legal Executives - London
- Legal Executives - in the Regions
- Document Review - Hourly Rates of Pay
- Northern Ireland
- Republic of Ireland
- Benefits Tables
Read our 2022 regional salary round-ups
- East Midlands, East Anglia & Milton Keynes
- North East
- North West
Reflecting on 2022...
Stuart Anderson, principal writer for BCL's The Brief and director of professional services specialist Alpha Public Relations, reviews BCL Legal’s 2022 salary survey and reflects on a year of dramatic pay increases for many roles...
Earlier this year hardly a day seemed to pass without another City or international law firm announcing hikes to its salaries for newly qualified solicitors, taking their pay to seemingly stratospheric levels.
A deeper look shows that dramatic salary increases have occurred in many regions and practice areas, and not just for NQs. Some of the biggest percentage rises, in fact, have been for paralegals – albeit often from a low base.
While the top salaries paid in any given tier and region have increased significantly, the picture is often patchier when you look at the mode (the salary paid to the largest number of people in any cohort) or the bottom of the market.
As the BCL team report in their regional round-ups (see above) this year, law firms are hiking the top salaries they are willing to pay to secure the most talented lawyers. Step changes in pay, however, can also mean increased expectations.
International, national and commercial firms
Although pay rises at the biggest firms in London tend to attract all the headlines, most of the steepest salary increases in the capital, particularly for NQs, actually happened last year. The average of the top salaries on offer to NQs in this market grew by seven per cent, to £150,000, in 2022, but the mode salary remained unchanged.
As BCL’s Sarah Bailey and Richard Coward point out in their review of the London market, however, salary bands are only part of the story. They have observed a noticeable increase in the number of sign-on bonuses for new starters, as well as firms pushing to the top ends of their salary bandings to attract the candidates they want.
Levelling up the regions
Outside of London, national and international salaries have followed the trajectory taken in the capital a year earlier. The highest average NQ salaries in the West Midlands increased by 26 per cent, to £70,000, by 23 per cent in Yorkshire and the North West, 20 per cent in the East of England, 19 per cent in the North East, and 17 per cent in the East Midlands.
The North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands all saw salary increases not only at the “high” end of the market but also at the bottom and the mode. The North East also saw the mode NQ salary increase by five per cent, to £42,000.
Bristol, meanwhile, has seen “record-breaking salary increases across the board”, according to BCL’s Kelly-Anne Willis. In her review of the city’s legal market she points to NQ salary increases of more than 20 per cent at some of the top international and London-headquartered firms’ Bristol offices, with leading national firms also hiking their NQ pay by around 15 per cent.
A number of BCL’s experts make the point that many salaries now being paid by larger national firms, which might look a bit light compared to those on offer from international firms, would actually have been market-leading just 12 months ago.
Multi-office teams and hybrid working
National and international firms have, since the pandemic and the rise of online meetings, increasingly created multi-office national teams who work collaboratively on client matters. This means that, for example, solicitors in Birmingham could be working on matters instructed from London, and their pay needs at least partially to reflect this quality of work.
A combination of hybrid/home working and what in normal times are good train connections from the East of England into London also mean that lawyers located on the East Coast mainline, at least from Northampton southwards, are increasingly considering commuting into London to access top quality work and top salaries.
As Clare Rumble points out in her review, firms in the East of England and East Midlands – and particularly Milton Keynes, with its non-stop connection into Euston – are having to compete for talent not only with each other but with the lure of a world financial centre a train ride away.
However, another common point made by BCL’s team is that top employers expect their top earners to perform at the top of their game. While flexible working and the ability in some cases to work a four-day week are valued by many candidates, those solicitors who want to earn the really big money need, as always, to put in the hours.
Staying in the game
Many regional and boutique firms have, BCL’s team report, been willing to make surprisingly large counter offers to keep hold of their top-performing lawyers. Salaries on offer to new starters have also risen in many cases, albeit slightly more patchily than among international and national firms.
The mode NQ salary in regional and boutique firms in the South West is now £55,000, up 36 per cent on 2021, and the same as the mode NQ salary offered by national and international firms in the region.
The South West is something of an outlier, however, with the mode NQ salary offered by regional and boutique firms in most other parts of the UK, including London, standing between £33,000 and £40,000.
Below the regional and boutique level, some of BCL’s experts have expressed concerns about those firms that cannot afford to keep up with the larger players. In her review of the Birmingham market, for example, Angharad Warren observes that those firms that cannot afford to keep up with the pay increases on offer at other firms are now struggling to fill vacancies, with the result that their existing staff are becoming overworked.
In most fields of practice, in both London and the regions, paralegal roles have seen meaningful pay rises in 2022.
At the top end of the London market the highest rates of pay on offer to paralegals at City, US and international firms increased by nine per cent, to £55,000. However, the most significant proportional pay rises for paralegals in London were actually experienced at the low end of the high street market, which saw salaries rise by 25 per cent, from £15,000 to £20,000.
In the regions, meanwhile, most areas of paralegal practice saw healthy salary increases at all levels of experience. This was particularly the case in the private client, commercial property and residential property fields, where increases of more than 25 per cent, or even over 30 per cent, were not uncommon.
However, it was a different story for debt recovery and personal injury. While both saw healthy salary rate increases at entry level, these quickly tailed off for more experienced paralegals.
The highest rates being offered to experienced personal injury paralegals actually fell by 17 per cent in 2022, from £35,000 to £30,000, and the mode dropped by eight per cent, to £26,000. By comparison, the mode salary being offered to experienced paralegals in every other practice area in 2022 was £30,000.
The top international, national and commercial firms are offering salaries to NQs and one-year PQE solicitors in their Scottish offices that are broadly comparable to those on offer in the larger English regional centres. Similar rises to those south of the border have been experienced in the past year.
Salaries being offered to more senior lawyers at the top firms in Scotland are, however, on aggregate lower than those in English regional centres. This is despite double-digit pecentage increases over the last year.
The battle is very much on for NQs, however, with BCL’s Charlotte Kerry and Alex Carpenter pointing out in their market review that it is not just the international firms that have increased NQ salaries. Larger national firms are now offering NQ salaries in the region of up to £54,500, with mid-tier firms not far behind, and smaller regional firms offering up to £44,000 in some cases.
Salaries in Dublin, particularly at the top firms, are generally higher than those on offer in the UK regional market but lower than those in London. This reflects Dublin’s status as an international banking and financial sector, as well as a national capital.
Unlike the UK market, however, the Dublin NQ market has not seen particularly big overall salary rises this year. At the leading firms the top average NQ rate stands unchanged on last year at €75,000.
However, as BCL’s Sean Cully says in his market review, the most in-demand roles in the city have been for three-to-five years’ PQE data protection, privacy, corporate and financial services lawyers, and company secretaries.
Sign-on bonuses have also continued to play a role in lateral moves, particularly for mid-level associates.
Belfast might only be two hours’ drive from Dublin but the dynamics of its legal market are very different. Despite the top firms having increased their salary rates for most experience levels in 2022, the bandings are still the lowest of any UK region, and far below those on offer in the capital of the Republic of Ireland.
The highest NQ salaries at international, national and top-tier firms in Belfast in 2022 are around £36,000 – an eight per cent increase on 2021 but still £29,000 lower than those on offer in the North West of England.
The rise of remote working has meant, BCL’s Sean Cully says, that lawyers based in Belfast, and around Northern Ireland, are now increasingly able to work for firms based on the other side of the Irish Sea, benefiting from the higher salaries on offer in Great Britain.
Individual firms, such as Pinsent Masons, have begun to address this by rebasing their salaries above the local market level to attract talent to remain in, or return to, Northern Ireland. If a critical mass of other firms were to follow suit the Belfast market could see a step change in salaries next year.