How much do lawyers earn?

Emma Knowles, Editor
March, 2018

While ambition and passion are important motivators behind starting a law career, you may also be interested in how much you could earn. Find out how your degree, location and specialism affect your pay packet

How much are trainee solicitors paid?

A trainee solicitor is an aspiring lawyer undertaking a two-year period of recognised training, also known as a training contract, at a law firm.

During this time you'll apply the theory you've gained during your studies to at least three areas of law. You'll also need to pass a compulsory Professional Skills Course in this time.

While there is technically no minimum salary for trainee lawyers, as of November 2016 the Law Society recommends a minimum salary of £20,913 for those training in London and £18,547 for trainees elsewhere in the country.

In reality, trainee lawyer salaries across the UK vary widely. The Magic Circle - comprised of London's five most prestigious law firms - currently offers trainee salaries in the region of £40,000 to £44,000, whereas high street firms outside the capital, in cities such as Birmingham and Manchester, typically offer training salaries of up to £30,000.

The route to qualifying as a solicitor in Scotland is different to that in the UK. Trainee solicitors in Scotland undergo a two-year traineeship, a period of work-based training with a practicing solicitor. Trainee salaries in Scotland are typically lower than in the rest of the UK - the Law Society's recommended rate as of June 2017 is just £18,000.

Trainee solicitors are expected to work long and tiring hours and, at the start of your training contract, client contact will be minimal and the majority of your tasks will be administrative. Qualifying as a solicitor is a long process and the training contract is the final hurdle. As such, many trainees, especially those at City or Magic Circle firms, are rewarded with high training salaries.

The stipulated minimum award for pupil Barristers, those completing a one-year pupillage, is £12,000, although many chambers usually pay more than this.

Search for law training contracts.

Salaries after qualifying

As a newly-qualified lawyer it's likely you'll enjoy a considerable jump in your earnings from your training pay.

Magic Circle lawyers can expect to earn between £71,500 and £85,000, with average salaries across London falling between £40,000 and £82,000. Salaries for newly-qualified lawyers across the rest of the UK are in the region of £32,000 to £45,000.

You can expect these figures to rise year-on-year as you gain post-qualified experience (PQE). At senior level, you could be earning around £60,000 to £80,000, and if you become the partner of a firm your salary could potentially reach in excess of £100,000.

These higher salaries are the result of years of hard work, and are typically found in Magic Circle and City firms. You'll earn less elsewhere in the country and at smaller firms, but will likely progress up the ranks quicker and be given more responsibility earlier on in your career.

If you're money-minded, you may be interested in joining a US firm - there are currently around 100 of these with a UK presence, either through having a base in the UK or by striking up a merger with an established UK firm. Although closer in size to firms outside of London, with some taking on only a handful of trainees per year, US firms offer attractive rates of pay:

  • Jones Day currently advertises a salary of £100,000 to its qualified lawyers.
  • New York City-based firm White & Case LLP offers £105,000 to qualified lawyers at its London site.

As well as higher rates of pay, working for an international firm opens you up to opportunities for travel and work abroad.

The university you graduate from might also have an impact on how much you earn. Times Higher Education (THE) research from June 2017 showed that law graduates from the University of Oxford earned a median salary of £61,400 five years after graduating, while at the other end of the scale those who opted to study at the University of Bradford were earning just £17,300 after the same time period.

Which areas of law pay the most?

Along with your geographical location, the area of law you choose to specialise in can have a big impact on your pay packet.

You'll find the highest salaries in areas of law that deal with high-profile companies on national and international scales, such as commercial, corporate and EU law.

At the other end of the scale, more personal areas of law are less likely to draw big-figure salaries, as are lawyers working on more local cases in high street firms. Personal injury and family lawyers are two of the areas of law that fall into this group.

While it's tempting to let salary information dictate your career choices, don't let this deter you from pursuing an area of law that really interests you. Employees in all areas of the law sector enjoy some of the highest salaries in the country, with many firms offering bonuses and generous pay rises as well as benefits such as health insurance, gym memberships and travel subsidies.

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