After years of studying for complex qualifications, junior lawyers might think they are entitled to expect some reward. And those ever-growing rewards have been the subject of much after-work pub chat in the City over the past year.
In the race to secure the best young talent, City law firms have obliged in style.
A host of law firms in the capital announced new increased salaries for their junior lawyers in recent weeks – the kind of early Christmas gift that needs no bow tied around it.
From next year, newly qualified lawyers at Ropes & Gray will – we suspect smugly – take home £147,000, up 13 per cent from £130,000 while their peers at Reed Smith will receive £107,500 – a boost of 19 per cent.
Earlier this month, magic circle law firm Clifford Chance joined the pay war for junior legal talent by hiking starting salaries for newly qualified lawyers to £107,500.
At least eight different City law firms have increased salaries for junior lawyers in the last two weeks alone, in a bid to recruit and retain legal talent.
But the perks come with strings. In the case of associates at Reed Smith, the new salary band is only available if they hit a billable hours target of 1,700 in a year, with an even higher salary band available only to those to exceed 2,000 hours.
However, that might not be a stretch for some since a recent survey of 2,500 lawyers by Legal Cheek found trainees and junior associates are already working longer hours across the board.
Nobody gets paid enough to get ill.Manda Banerji, Law Society junior lawyers division chair
Although many expect unsociable hours, the eventual solicitor burnout and a high churn of staff for the big City law firms only adds to the bidding war for junior lawyers.
Burnout is hardly unpredictable when considering nearly 30 per cent of lawyers surveyed, for a study by legal mental health charity LawCare, said their firm required them to be available to clients 24 hours a day.
The report found that over two thirds of the lawyers surveyed said that they had experienced mental ill health in the past year.
Critics argue that money isn’t necessarily the answer to the shortage of junior lawyers.
“It’s all very well raising salaries but that doesn’t go far enough to attract or retain the best talent,” LawCare chief executive Elizabeth Rimmer told City A.M.
“What young lawyers want is a work life balance, mentoring, support and a career they can thrive in,” she argued.
“One of the reasons why law firms, particularly in the City, are facing a shortage of junior lawyers is because of working conditions,” explained Manda Banerji, chair of the junior lawyers division of the Law Society.
“The reasons they are leaving is because they are overworked, and they’re burnt out,”said Banerji.
The mindset of junior lawyers now compared to 20 years ago is changing, Banerji said. Salaries linked to arduous billable hours, she argued, were not the solution.
“Junior lawyers are prepared to work hard,” she said, “but not at the expense of their health. Nobody gets paid enough to get ill.”