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How to remunerate NQ lawyers?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 22/11/13

The amount of cash paid to newly-qualified (NQ) solicitors has long been a bone of contention among older members of the legal profession, inspiring much Monty Pythorn-esque grumbling about how in their day they were given a lump of coal and had to swim three miles down the Thames to get home.

But times have undeniably changed, as was underlined when the Lawyer reported earlier this month that Davis Polk & Wardwell has become the latest firm to offer its NQ hires £100,000 a year.

It is American firms in London that are offering this impressive level of remuneration, showcasing the amount of cash on offer from big international operations keen to establish a foothold in the capital and pick up its best talent.

However, there has been a general pay rise across the NQ sector since the early 2000s, with legal businesses competing fiercely for the most suitable graduates.

The graduate recruitment partner of one large international firm anonymously told the Lawyer that he can see little prospect of change in this area, dismissing the idea of merit-based salaries.

"My instant reaction to the idea of performance-related pay is that if the trainee has performed at a level which induces us to want to keep them on a permanent basis, I don't see any particular justification for treating any of them differently to any other," they declared.

However, RPC managing partner Jonathan Watmough claimed the flat-rate pay packet is out-dated - his firm is moving to a performance-based system that it feels will be more equitable and effective.

Not all NQ lawyers are coming from the same background and this should be recognised, he explained.

"Someone who comes straight from university obviously does not have the same experience as someone who's come to us out of the armed forces, for example," said Mr Watmough.

Whatever the solution, I think we can all agree that we'll look back on this and laugh when civilisation collapses and we move to a barter-based economy.