Louisa Phillips
Louisa Phillips
Associate Director: Private Practice

Articles From the Team

Money talks

In a busy legal market candidates are in a strong position, but a common question we are often asked is how far does this influence when entering into pay negotiations? Will firms break pay brackets to attract a candidate, and ultimately how much can you earn on a move?

So far the 2017 legal market has been buoyant. With ample work around, particularly across transactional areas, solicitors have been increasingly busy and often working longer hours. Valued lawyers in corporate, banking and real estate in particular have now been consistently busy for the last couple of years, and are of course starting to ask when their hard work will be rewarded with pay increases.

Lawyers in the large national firms, including not only the top tier including DLA, Pinsents, Eversheds and Addleshaws, but heavyweight nationals like Shoosmiths and Nabarro, have generally always been well remunerated. However, despite the increase in work levels, pay rises internally will tend to be relatively modest year on year. This is largely to avoid large pay differences between teams and across individual fee earners, and as firms prefer not to make a quick reaction to a short term change in market conditions. Instead, star performers in recent years have at times been rewarded with end of year bonus payments to recognise their hard work.

So does this mean that moving to another law firm will give you a significant pay rise? Not necessarily, but it depends largely on your level of qualification and experience. If you are already at a top tier or national firm and roughly at a market rate for your level, significant pay rises between like for like firms are unlikely, again because teams are conscious not to upset their loyal fee earners by bringing new entrants in above set bands. However, if you are senior with good contacts or work to bring, firms will pay a premium and the increase can be substantial.

New teams into the market with plans for growth also often have big budgets to attract the best people in the market – these can be exciting options, offering the chance to handle excellent quality work but at the same time join a new team in it’s infancy, having the ability to play a key role with clients and have the buzz of a new team around you working towards the same goal. National firms who have moved into Manchester in recent months have done this, positioning themselves at the top of the market financially.

A strong market also means 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 size and salary. National firms generally have set pay bands for each level of PQE, at least at the junior level, so if you are coming from a small firm on a relatively low salary, your pay rise could be significant. We 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. One example is an NQ would have achieved £25,000 when qualifying at their current firm but secured a top tier NQ role on £40,000.

At the end of the day, when interviewing candidates firms are still looking for individuals with the right experience, personality and fit for the team, so asking about salary at a first stage interview is not the done thing! But if you do feel underpaid or are keen to understand your position in the market, we can offer advice as the market is certainly in your favour.

For more information contact Louisa Phillips at BCL Legal.

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