How much do lawyers earn?

Author
Jemma Smith, Editor
Posted
May, 2021

Did you know that lawyers earn some of the highest graduate starting salaries in the country? While money shouldn't be the primary concern when choosing a career it's useful to know that your years spent training will be richly rewarded

At a glance

  • Trainees in London earn more than those working outside the capital.
  • You'll earn less in smaller firms outside London but will likely rise up the ladder quicker.
  • USA based firms pay the highest trainee and newly-qualified salaries, followed by Magic Circle then City firms.
  • Newly-qualified salaries rise year-on-year as you gain experience.
  • You'll find the highest salaries in areas such as commercial and corporate law, while family and personal injury law are less likely to draw big-figure salaries.

How much are trainee solicitors paid?

Technically there is no official minimum salary for trainee lawyers, however The Law Society recommends a minimum of £22,794 for those training in London and £20,217 for trainees elsewhere in the country.

In reality, trainee lawyer salaries vary across the UK and your location is one of the biggest factors affecting what you'll earn.

Firms in London often pay trainees above and beyond the recommended minimum. For example, the Magic Circle - comprised of Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May - London's five most prestigious law firms currently offer first year trainees salaries in the region of £45,000 to £48,000. Once trainees reach their second year salaries rise to between £51,000 and £52,500.

However, it's the USA-based firms (usually found in London) that pay the most impressive wages. For example, Kirkland & Ellis and White & Case pay first-year trainee solicitors £50,000. These figures rise to £55,000 in the second year.

While firms outside the capital tend to pay less, their pay packets are not to be dismissed. First-year trainee salaries in regional law firms range from £20,000 to £39,000. High street firms typically offer training salaries of £22,000 to £30,000.

Trainee salaries in Scotland are typically lower than the rest of the UK - the Law Society of Scotland’s recommended rate is £19,500 for first-year trainees and £22,500 in the second year. To find out more, see solicitor, Scotland.

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 salaries. Read more about the reality of working in law.

Search for law training contracts.

The current stipulated minimum award for pupil barristers (those completing a one-year pupillage according to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) is £18,960 for pupillages in London and £16,601 for those outside the capital. However, chambers may pay more than this. For example Blackstone Chambers and One Essex Court offer pupillage awards of £70,000.

How much do lawyers earn after qualifying?

As a newly-qualified (NQ) lawyer it's likely you'll enjoy a considerable jump in your earnings. However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic many firms decided to decrease NQ salaries and freeze pay. That said NQ salaries are still impressive.

While Magic Circle trainees took home salaries of £100,000 pre-COVID, the top five firms decided to cut salaries up to 10% during the pandemic. A number of these firms have since decided to increase NQ salaries but at the moment they fall short of pre-pandemic levels. For example Allen & Overy cut their NQ salaries to £90,000, but this has now been increased to £95,000. Linklaters also cut theirs to £90,000 but have since increased this to £92,500. Slaughter and May's NQ solicitors will now earn £90,500 after pay was initially cut to £87,000 to curb the financial impact of coronavirus.

Unsurprisingly USA-based firms offer some of the highest remuneration packages to their newly qualified lawyers:

  • Kirkland & Ellis pay their London-based newly qualified solicitors £150,000.
  • Latham & Watkins offer newly-qualified solicitors £137,000.
  • White & Case pay recently qualified lawyers £130,000.

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

Working at a City firm your work/life balance may be compromised but your salary is sure to reflect your hard work. For example:

You can expect these figures to rise year-on-year as you gain post-qualified experience (PQE). If you become the partner of a firm your salary could potentially reach in excess of £100,000.

To find out more about Magic Circle, USA-based and City firms, see top UK law firms.

You'll earn less elsewhere in the country and at smaller firms, but will likely progress up the ladder quicker and be given more responsibility earlier on in your career. Salaries for newly-qualified lawyers across the rest of the UK are in the region of £27,000 to £60,000.

As a newly qualified solicitor in Scotland, you can expect to be paid around £30,000 rising to £38,000, depending on your area of private practice or whether you're working in house. This can increase to around £45,000 after three years' experience.

Barristers earnings vary widely. Qualified barristers can take home anything between £50,000 and £200,000.

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 earnings.

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 types of law that fall into this group.

However, no matter which specialism you choose, employees in 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.

And remember, while it's tempting to let salary information dictate your career choices, don't let the figures deter you from pursuing an area of law that you're really passionate about. Money isn't everything and there are plenty of other things to take into consideration when mapping out your law career. For example, weighing up which qualification route is right for you, which areas of law hold your interest and what type of firm is the best fit.

Find out more

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