Magic Circle pay watch: Linklaters edges up associate salaries, Slaughters holds and Clifford Chance gets coy

Magic Circle pay watch: Linklaters edges up associate salaries, Slaughters holds and Clifford Chance gets coy

Pay rises continue to ripple through the top-end legal services market despite the uncertain outlook for the City. The latest to go is London giant Linklaters, which has nudged up its base rate for junior lawyers by £1,000, handing newly-qualified (NQ) solicitors £82,000.

Elsewhere, Slaughter and May has just elected to hold mid-year associate salaries following a previous pay boost in January, while Clifford Chance (CC) has brought its pay for junior lawyers up only to match inflation… while coming over uncharacteristically coy on the subject.

NQ lawyers at Linklaters can now earn a total package of £90,000 including bonuses. This is up from last year’s £81,000, according to a breakdown the firm provided in 2016.

Linklaters confirmed that in 2016/17, 1PQE associates would earn a minimum of £90,000, with 2PQE and 3PQE associates’ pay at least £100,000 and £111,000 respectively. High-performing lawyers could receive substantially more, with some 1PQEs earning £101,000. High-performing two year PQEs earned £119,000 and high-performing three year PQEs earned £130,000. However, Linklaters declined to confirm the new packages for 2017/18 beyond newly-qualified level.

Slaughters had previously boosted associate base salaries by 10% as of 1 January 2017. NQ pay increased 9% to £78,000, while 1PQE salaries rose 10% to £87,000. The firm this month opted to hold associate pay bands for the coming year.

CC, meanwhile, has brought its junior lawyers’ base rate pay up to match the UK’s 2.7% jump in inflation, which for a newly-qualified base rate of £85,000 would suggest increases of over £2,000 for junior associates.

In an unusual move, given that it has for years been established practice for major law firms in Wall Street and the City to disclose pay bands for junior lawyers, CC declined to comment, confirm or deny any specific figures when contacted.

Last year, however, CC issued a press statement on 1 May confirming its 2016/17 pay bands for NQ lawyers, with the inclusion of bonuses bringing NQ pay to £85,000 compared to £70,000 before bonuses in 2015.

One CC partner told Legal Business that they did not understand why the firm is keeping its cards close to its chest, as ‘the increase has been received positively by junior lawyers, and that the growth is “high numbers” all-around in terms of pounds and pence’.

The fiddling with associate compensation comes as City leaders are caught between contrasting forces of disapproving general counsel on one hand and US-based law firms, which are continuing to hike salaries for junior lawyers, on the other.

It appears that one response for London leaders struggling to match the US dollar is to be less transparent on associate comp and hope the core talent pool does not notice the difference. If so, the odds do not look great.

This article first appeared on The Lex 100‘s sister publication, Legal Business.