Skip to main content

The Lawyer’s Salary Survey

Written by: Richard Simmons
Published on: 14 Jun 2015

    In partnership with Kinsella Legal

    Supported by GMK Legal and QC Legal

    The Lawyer ’s first Salary Survey cover lawyers’ pay, base salaries, bonuses, benefits and pay satisfaction, as well as their wider career satisfaction and aspirations. We have unearthed eye-opening information about the effects on earnings of location, sector, experience and, of course, gender.

    Salary Survey Article image

    How much are you paid? Are you happy with your salary? Are your skills adequately recognised and rewarded? Who are the happiest lawyers when it comes to remuneration? How big a pay rise — or drop — could you expect to get if you moved elsewhere?

    These are just some of the questions we set out to answer in The Lawyer ’s first salary survey. The legal profession is relatively well-paid, but there are big differences in salary depending on the type of organisation in which you work. And everyone wants to know how much they are worth. The most-read stories on The Lawyer ’s website are regularly those relating to salary rises.

    The survey ran during April 2015 and 6,376 lawyers responded, providing a detailed and fascinating snapshot of how much lawyers earn.

    It should come as no surprise to discover that US firms are the highest-paying, after which salaries are ordered roughly by the size of firm in the City, starting with the magic circle and largest international organisations, descending to the mid-size London firms and then boutiques and regional outfits.

    About a quarter of respondents to the survey worked in-house, however, providing more insight into the potential remuneration that can be expected away from private practice.

    The Lawyer ’s survey is wide-ranging, covering not just base salaries but bonuses, benefits and salary satisfaction, as well as wider career satisfaction and aspirations. The Lawyer has also taken the opportunity to survey stress in the profession, including what policies are in place to help lawyers cope with the pressure of their jobs.

    Siobhan Kinsella: modern working practices are as crucial as competitive salaries

    Siobhan Kinsella [square]

    As the UK economy continues to grow, today’s lawyers have never been so sought after, driven by the current war for talent.  

    Over the past 12 months in particular, the legal market has oscillated from being employer led to candidate driven. Those candidates who are looking to move jobs are faced with more options and typically good candidates have multiple offers from which to choose. Combined with this is the stark reality that the pool of quality candidates in the market (particularly at the mid-level) has diminished. The main reason for this relates back to the economic downturn when law firms and companies made mass redundancies and areas such as Corporate, Banking, Real Estate & Construction were particularly affected. This was exacerbated by lower retention rates across all levels, in addition to a 12.5 per cent drop in available training contracts over the last decade. This combination has resulted in a “lost generation” of lawyers.  

    As the economy improves, these discipline areas are back in high demand but the talent pool has reduced significantly. In fact, most sectors have seen growth, with the exception of Energy and Natural Resources, which continues to be adversely affected by falling commodity prices.

    Law firms and companies alike are competing for the same candidates. This has led to a recent increase in trainee and NQ salaries, culminating in some magic circle firms offering £70,000 to NQs. In-house clients have yet to respond but it’s inevitable that they will have to if they wish to remain competitive. Over the past few years, many in-house lawyers have seen their salaries stall or at best rise with inflation, while their law firm peers receive average pay increases of about 10-15 per cent per year in the City firms. That said, there is no shortage of candidates wishing to make the move in-house. Although remuneration remains a very important factor for most, very few will make a career decision based on bottom line salary alone. Other considerations will include an organisation’s reputation and culture, quality of work and life, career prospects, additional benefits (including flexible working) and location.   

    At Kinsella Legal, we have seen considerable change in the legal market over the last few years. There is a move away from traditional lock-step structures to more meritocratic systems that reward ability, achievement and contribution rather than how many years’ experience someone has. Those candidates who prefer flexibility in their work are in high demand as the temporary and contract markets continue to grow, as well as the relatively new offering of the virtual law firm model – and the quality of candidates in this space is high.  

    With the evident talent shortage and competitive recruitment environment, we believe that there will be a need for clients to be less prescriptive about what they are looking for. A candidate driven market combined with the skill shortage in certain areas will result in employers having to invest in training and development, thereby putting potential talent and technical ability above actual experience.

    There is no doubt that the increased number of job opportunities will ensure the best lawyers have great choice for the foreseeable future. However, employers can’t simply look at the bottom line to attract and retain this talent – they need to be mindful of other motivations. Competitive salaries and benefits must be combined with a degree of modern working practices, flexibility and continued career development.

    Siobhan Kinsella is director of Kinsella Legal –

    Click on the logo for more details

    Kinsella Legal article image


    For the purposes of this report:

    • ‘Junior lawyer’ refers to those of 1-3PQE

    • ‘Mid-level lawyer’ refers to those of 4-6PQE

    • ‘Senior lawyer’ refers to those of 7+PQE who are not partners

    • ‘Magic circle’ refers to Allen & Overy , Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer , Linklaters and Slaughter and May

    • ‘Large London firms’ refers to the UK top 20, excluding the magic circle

    • ‘Mid-size firms’ refers to the London mid-market firms, from outside the top 20 down.

    • ‘US firms’ refers to those firms that have predominantly American heritage, including where large American firms have essentially taken over a London mid-size firm. Therefore K&L Gates , which took over Nicholson Graham & Jones, would fall under this banner, but Hogan Lovells and Norton Rose Fulbright , which are in the UK top 20, do not.

    • ‘National firms’ refers to those firms outside the top 20 with offices across several UK regions (such as DWF , Kennedys and Bond Dickinson )

    • ‘Regional firms’ refers to those firms that are restricted to one UK region (such as Burges Salmon in Bristol or Walker Morris in Leeds)

    • ‘Boutique’ firms refers to smaller firms that specialise in predominantly one area of law (though not necessarily to the exclusion of any other practice)

    For more Salary Survey content go to