Being a lawyer is one of the most respected professions in the world, and it should come as no surprise as to why. The job requires extensive knowledge of the legal system to ensure their clients are on the right side of it.
Lawyers are known to work around the clock to serve their client's needs, whether that's an individual, a group, or a company, especially at major law firms in the country.
However, quality lawyers are currently scarce, prompting big law firms to cash out to attract lawyers with the required expertise. But, how much does a lawyer typically earn?
That's what we'll explore in this article. We'll take a look at the average salary for a lawyer in the United Kingdom, what factors affect how much they make, and what to look out for if they want to maximise their earnings.
According to Payscale, the average lawyer salary in the UK is £49,235 per year. This figure exceeds the average salary in the UK of £31,285 and the average salary in London of £39,716. With the average salary of a lawyer being much higher than the UK and London average, it just goes to show that being a lawyer is one of the best-paid professions in the UK.
To ensure law firms are engaging in good business practices, The Law Society has a recommended minimum salary for trainees in the UK – £22,794 for trainees in London and £20,217 for those outside of London. Considering this is the minimum recommended amount, many law firms will pay their trainees much more than this to attract the best talent. The exact amount lawyers earn will depend on three factors:
- The field of law you work in
- The city you work in
- The type of law firm you work in
Let's explore these factors in further detail.
As a general rule of thumb, corporate and commercial law are the fields that pay the most. Anytime you are working with conglomerates and high-profile businesses that operate on a global scale, you can expect to be paid handsomely for your work. Trainees in corporate and commercial lawyers can earn as much as £50,000 per year. Newly qualified lawyers can earn as much as £100,000, and fully-fledged lawyers with a decade of experience under their belt can command as much as £1,000,000.
However, that doesn't mean other fields of law aren't lucrative. Lawyers tend to be one of the best-paid occupations in the country, with a host of firms offering high salaries, bonuses, and company benefits. Also, there are many fields and sub-fields in law, and if you are one of the best lawyers in your chosen field, you will undoubtedly be compensated as such. Below is a list of different areas of law. Whilst this is not an exhaustive list, they cover all the major fields:
- Banking law
- Civil rights law
- Commercial law
- Constitutional law
- Construction law
- Contract law
- Corporate law
- Criminal law
- Employment law
- Environmental law
- Equity and trusts
- EU law
- Family law
- Finance law
- Human rights law
- Insurance law
- Intellectual property law
- Land law
- Maritime law
- Media law
- Private client law
- Property law
- Public law
- Shipping law
- Sports law
- Tax law
- Tort law
Without a doubt, most of the highest salaries in the UK will be found in London. The biggest deals and companies are found in the City, with many international businesses having headquarters in the capital. As such, the biggest and most prestigious law firms are also located there, looking to snatch up opportunities as they arise. Therefore, if you want to be a top earner as a lawyer, working in London will help expedite the process.
However, the capital isn't for everyone. Luckily, there are plenty of big law firms in other cities that have a need for top talent. Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, and Leeds are all but a few places that house law firms which also cater to major UK and international clients, and the salaries of their lawyers can sometimes rival that of London.
Just as there are different fields in law, there are different types of law firms. This will significantly impact how much you can expect to earn. Some types of firms can only afford to pay their employees below or around the UK average. On the other hand, other types of firms will pay far above the UK average to attract the most-skilled lawyers to help serve their big clients. Let's take a further look at them.
The 'Magic Circle' refers to a handful of London-based law firms that are considered the cream of the crop when it comes to British law firms. They include Allen & Overy, Linklaters, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Clifford Chance, and Slaughter and May.
Specialising primarily in finance and corporate law, these law firms are the most prestigious in the country and offer some of the highest salaries in the UK. This is mainly due to the fact that they work on the biggest deals and, as such, have high profitability. This allows them to pay newly qualified lawyers in excess of £100,000 salaries and partners as much as £2,000,000, ensuring their lawyers are rewarded for their work. Besides the high salaries, lawyers working at these firms can expect great company benefits, top training programs, and the opportunity to work with wealthy international clients – it's like hitting the jackpot for your CV and career.
However, it doesn't come without its downsides. Since these companies pride themselves on their profitability, a trainee and junior lawyer will be expected to work long hours to satisfy clients. There can be a lot of pressure to perform at a high level at all times, and free time for most trainees will be limited – particularly in the first few years. But, if that sort of work environment gets the best out of you, you will be rewarded handsomely for your work.
Law firms in the Silver Circle are considered to be a step below the Magic Circle in terms of profitability. However, they still outperform the UK average significantly – in some years, their profits even outperform the Magic Circle firms. These law firms are London-based and include Travers Smith, Macfarlanes, and Mishcon de Reya.
Also specialising mainly in corporate law, obtaining the legal services of these firms isn't cheap. And the employees get to see a good chunk of that money, with newly qualified solicitors earning up to £85,000 per year, sometimes even breaking the six-figure mark. Partners can expect to earn up to £1,000,000 per year for their services, making these law firms a lucrative option for any budding attorney. However, as with the law firms in the Magic Circle, they are very much performance-driven, and trainee lawyers can expect to work long billable hours.
A plethora of US law firms have made the trip across the pond and set up offices in the UK. They, too, tend to focus on corporate and finance law which is where big money can be made. But they tend to have a more international focus due to their headquarters.
In order to attract talent that would otherwise join one of the Magic Circle or Silver Circle firms, the US elites offer a mouth-watering amount of money to their lawyers. If you want a job with the highest salary possible for your position, it's a safe bet that it will be one of the US law firms that can provide it. Newly qualified lawyers can earn as much as £150,000 annually, with partners taking home as much as £4,000,000. Along with high salaries, you can also expect more personal training programmes.
Boutique & Niche firms
Boutique and niche firms specialise in one or two areas of law. This could be in things such as sports, pensions, media and entertainment, etc. Due to the nature of their work in dealing with more intricate and complex matters, they tend not to be as big as the types of firms mentioned above, but that doesn't mean they're not profitable. Specialising in certain areas makes them experts and market leaders on the subject, and as such, they can command high fees for their services.
Training will be more hands-on, and their services are typically more tailored to client needs since they don't have as big a clientele pool. This means that it's a perfect choice for those who know exactly what law field they want to enter. In terms of salary, of course, boutique firm lawyers in London earn more than those outside of the capital, with salaries up to £65,000 for junior lawyers and up to £850,000 for partners. However, firms outside of London can still offer above the average salary in the UK.
If you want to earn the most amount of money, chances are you'll have to work in London. But, for those who don't want to live there and don't mind earning a little less on average, there's an abundance of renowned regional firms available to choose from in England and the UK.
Cities such as Manchester, Bristol, and Birmingham have law firms that attract big international clients. Whilst their profitability may not be as high as the London firms, they still earn enough to pay their lawyers a higher salary than the UK average. Newly qualified lawyers who are working at the leading regional firms can make upwards of £85,000 per year. Even smaller firms can pay as much as £65,000. And when factoring in a lower cost of living, you could potentially by getting more bang for your buck.
Although you may be getting paid a little less, that doesn't mean you will be expected to put in any fewer hours than you would at a London-based firm. Long hours and diligent work will still be expected from you.
High Street firms
High street firms are those that you'll be able to find on your local high street. Nowhere near as big as national and international firms, these law firms focus on the community around them – whether that's the local village, town, or city.
Typically, they tend to work with individuals or small businesses and therefore aren't as profitable as other firms. But, they can provide more flexibility, a greater variety of clients such as landlords, shop owners, and freelancers, and don't often expect you to work long hours that big firms do. This will be reflected in your pay, with newly qualified solicitors earning anywhere between £27,000 and £60,000 per year, depending on the location and clientele of the business. However, high street firms tend to offer more personalised training, which could be fast-tracked depending on the law firm's needs.
Being a lawyer is a lucrative line of work. The need for people who know the law and are disciplined and dedicated is high, with law firms consistently having job vacancies for both trainee and qualified positions. To attract the best talent to their firm, most companies are willing to compensate them with a high salary, knowing that the lawyers' expertise will help close deals that are worth much more.
As with many professions, working for a law firm based in London will give you the best chance of being in the top percentile of earners – particularly if you're at one of the big firms. However, that doesn't mean your salary will be low if you work in other areas of the country. The average lawyer salary of £49,235 far exceeds the average UK salary of £31,285, showing that lawyers get paid much more than most occupations, regardless of what field of law they work in.
Having said that, being a lawyer is hard work. Major firms expect their employees to rack up long hours to earn the highest salaries and often expect their lawyers to manage high workloads. But, for those who can not only survive but thrive under these working conditions, a profitable career is ahead.