Solicitors are known for their hard work, fastidiousness and dedication. There is a widely held belief that the hard work of solicitors is remunerated handsomely with high pay, big bonuses and plenty of room for career growth.
While this can be true, the reality is that solicitors’ earnings vary widely depending on several factors. However, it is true that solicitors and lawyers in general enjoy some of the highest graduate starting salaries in the country.
While financial benefit should never be the sole reason that you pursue a certain career path, it is natural to want to understand how much you stand to earn in a given profession. And with solicitors’ earnings being so variable, you will want to know the details of how much you can expect to earn.
In this article, we will look at how much solicitors earn in different regions of the country, at differing levels of experience, and in different fields of law. We will also look at firms and in-house legal teams.
How much do solicitors earn?
According to Indeed.com, the average salary of a qualified solicitor in the United Kingdom is £49,046 per year (based on 10.3k salaries reported, updated on 11 Jan 2024), whereas the average in London is £60,738. Reed.com estimates the average in the UK at £48,629, with London averages at £80,057 (based on current job postings as of 15 January 2024). These will be the base salaries, before a bonus or profit sharing.
The salary range varies widely. You can earn anywhere between £30,000 working for small high-street firms or those in small towns to £100,000+ at larger firms, also called Silver Circle and Magic Circle firms. It’s also worth noting that top salaries aren’t confined to London: several top 100 firms have headquarters and offices outside of London and they can pay equally high, if not more. You can earn even more at a US law firm based in the UK. The scope for salary growth in some prestigious UK law firms is large, and senior solicitors and equity partners in these firms may earn upwards of £200,000.
Certain practice areas, such as corporate law, will pay more than if you’re practising in the public sphere, or specialise in family or criminal law.
How much do trainee solicitors earn?
Once you have completed your degree, as a budding solicitor you will next prepare for and sit the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). Before, during or after, you’ll also have to accrue two years of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). During this time you can do paralegal work. Some big firms may offer you a training contract, meaning they will pay for your studies and once you’ve passed the SQE2, you will have a position at the firm as a newly qualified solicitor. Some solicitors in training are still on the old LPC route to qualification, which means they’re on a two-year placement within a law firm.
As a trainee solicitor, your salary will largely depend on where you practice and the field of law you practice. The only lower limit for trainee solicitor salaries is the minimum wage. However, The Law Society of England and Wales suggests a recommended minimum salary of £26,068 in London and £23,122 outside London. These figures were decided in 2023 and are subject to change each year. In Scotland, The Law Society of Scotland currently recommends a salary of £22,550 for first-year trainees and then £26,125 for second-year trainees.
Trainees at smaller firms and non-London based firms may be offered the national living wage, though the average trainee solicitor wage is between £35,000 and £48,000 in London, and between £18,000 and £35,000 outside London.
The Magic Circle is an informal name given to London’s five most prestigious law firms, all of which specialise in corporate law: Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, and Slaughter and May. Trainee salaries in the first year here are around £50,000, rising to around £55,000 in the second year of training. However, getting a trainee position at one of the Magic Circle firms is no easy feat as they are highly sought after. And with the prestige of these firms coupled with the high starting salaries, you can expect to work very long hours with no overtime pay.
As a trainee solicitor in the UK, the highest earnings are at US firms based in the UK. The most prestigious of these firms, such as Davis Polk & Wardwell, Kirkland & Ellis, Vinson & Elkins, Sullivan & Cromwell etc, pay first-year trainee solicitors annual wages of around £60,000, rising to around £65,000 in their second year (according to ChambersStudent.co.uk).
How much do newly qualified (NQ) solicitors earn?
Once you have finished your two-year traineeship, you are then classed as a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor for a year.
As a newly qualified solicitor, your salary will increase from your trainee years and you can expect to earn anywhere between £25,000 and £60,000 per year if you are based outside of London. Working in London, you can expect a salary of between £35,000 and £90,000. Newly qualified lawyers in Scotland can expect to be paid around £30,000, rising to £38,000 depending on their area of private practice. This can increase to around £45,000 after three years of experience.
Salaries for newly qualified solicitors working for a Magic Circle firm may be around £90,000 to £100,000. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, some firms have decreased their NQ salaries and frozen their rates of pay. For example, prior to the pandemic, NQ solicitors working for a Magic Circle firm could have expected to take home around £100,000. A number of these firms have since decided to cut salaries by up to 10%. Some firms have already started to raise their salaries again, but most have not yet reached pre-pandemic levels.
And an NQ solicitor at one of the top US firms in the UK could even see a salary of £170,000.
What is the average salary of a fully qualified solicitor?
Once you have completed your NQ year, you are a fully qualified solicitor. As we saw earlier, the average salary for fully qualified solicitors working full-time in private practice is around £45,000 to £50,000. However, the earnings of fully qualified solicitors vary enormously. Here we look at the average earnings of fully qualified solicitors based on region, seniority and bonuses as reported by The Law Society in 2022.
Average salaries in London law firms
As we have already seen, London-based solicitors earn significantly more than those practising outside the capital. The Law Society of England and Wales calculated the average earnings of fully qualified solicitors practising in London in 2022 to be £88,000. Central London boasts the highest salaries for solicitors, as it is where the most prestigious firms are based.
Average salaries in regional law firms
Outside of London, the highest paid area for solicitors is in the south of England, where a solicitor’s average earnings are £56,000. Solicitors in the Midlands and Wales have average salaries of £46,000. And those in the north of England have an average annual salary of £43,000.
Average solicitor salaries by seniority
Of course, as with most professions, experienced solicitors can expect to earn more as they rise through the ranks of seniority. Although certain practices may have different levels of seniority, here we will look at the average salaries of associate solicitors, salaried partners and equity partners.
An associate solicitor refers to a general employee at a solicitor’s firm. The average earnings of an associate solicitor in the UK are £65,000.
A salaried partner is paid a regular salary and is usually not an actual partner of the firm. However, they may be entitled to bonuses depending on the firm’s and their own performance. The average earnings of a salaried partner in the UK are £75,000.
An equity partner refers to a solicitor who has shares in the firm. They are usually in the highest salary bracket. Once you have worked at a law firm for a significant period, you may be invited to become an equity partner or you may have set up your own firm and own part or all of the business. The average salary of a solicitor at equity partner level in the UK is £130,000.
Average annual bonus for solicitors in the UK
Many solicitors working for law firms in the UK receive annual bonuses depending on the firm’s or their own performance. In 2018, just under half of all private legal practitioners working full time received an annual bonus. The mean bonus of that year was £10,725 and the median was £5,000.
Working as a solicitor in an in-house legal team
All the salaries above are based on law firms. The salaries of an in-house solicitor at an organisation vary even more, but they’re potentially lower than that of a solicitor at a law firm. Opportunities in in-house legal teams are rapidly growing however and offer great legal careers.
Which areas of law pay the most?
Along with regional location and seniority, another crucial factor in determining solicitors’ salaries is the field in which they practice.
The highest salaries are invariably in corporate and commercial law. Commercial law, sometimes known as mercantile law or trade law, applies to the rights, relations, and conduct of people and businesses engaged in commerce, trade and sales. Corporate law, sometimes known as business law, refers to legal practices in relation to corporations and their formation, funding or governance.
At the lower end of the scale are personal injury law, civil rights law, criminal law, and family law. Although it may be harder to earn as much in these fields, many find greater satisfaction in their work. It should also be noted that financial success is possible in all fields of law.
How much should solicitors charge per hour?
Much of a solicitor’s job involves advising clients on an hourly basis. The UK government offers guidelines on hourly solicitor rates each year. The current guidelines were updated in January 2024. The rates vary depending on the region and the experience of the solicitor. These guidelines are only recommendations and are not definitive.
The government guidelines divide London into three bands:
- London band 1. Commercial and corporate work by centrally based London firms. Not restricted by postcode.
- London band 2. Firms in the City and Central London. Postcodes EC1 to 4, W1, WC1, WC2 and SW1.
- London band 3. Outer London. All other London boroughs, plus Dartford and Gravesend.
The rest of the country is divided into two bands:
- National band 1. This includes the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Essex, Hampshire (and the Isle of Wight), Kent, Middlesex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Wiltshire. And the cities and towns of Birkenhead, Birmingham (Inner), Bristol, Cambridge City, Cardiff (Inner), Leeds (Inner), Liverpool, Manchester (Central), Newcastle City, Norwich City, Nottingham City, and Watford.
- National band 2. This includes everywhere else that does not fit into National band 1 or any of the London bands.
So let’s take a look at the rates recommended for the different levels of seniority.
Recommended hourly fee for trainee solicitors and paralegals:
- London Band 1 – £198 per hour
- London Band 2 – £148 per hour
- London Band 3 – £138 per hour
- National Band 1 – £134 per hour
- National Band 2 – £134 per hour
Recommended hourly fee for other solicitors of equivalent experience:
- London Band 1 – £288 per hour
- London Band 2 – £260 per hour
- London Band 3 – £197 per hour
- National Band 1 – £190 per hour
- National Band 2 – £189 per hour
Recommended hourly fee for a solicitor with over four years experience:
- London Band 1 – £371 per hour
- London Band 2 – £308 per hour
- London Band 3 – £247 per hour
- National Band 1 – £233 per hour
- National Band 2 – £233 per hour
Recommended hourly fee for a solicitor with over eight years experience:
- London Band 1 – £546 per hour
- London Band 2 – £398 per hour
- London Band 3 – £301 per hour
- National Band 1 – £278 per hour
- National Band 2 – £272 per hour
The earnings and salaries of solicitors vary enormously. Much of what a solicitor earns is based on their level of experience, their field of practice and their location.
Solicitors must train for many years, pay for the qualifying exams and work long, demanding hours. But in most fields of practice, the hard work pays off and solicitors usually enjoy salaries that are significantly above the national average.
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