Starting salaries of £66,000 for graduates

Law graduates are being offered starting salaries of £66,000 by American law firms based in London who have launched a high-profile recruitment offensive in the City.

Law graduates are being offered starting salaries of £66,000 by American law firms based in London who have launched a high-profile recruitment offensive in the City.

The US law firms are doubling what English firms pay their newly qualified lawyers, according to a survey published by recruitment consultants Taylor Root. Gill Jones, a consultant at Taylor Root, said that the real starting salaries at American law firms were even higher because New York firms in London also paid £5,000 annual bonuses.

The figures show that a fresh-faced law graduate canleave law school and after just two years' training expect to earn as much as an established senior partner in a traditional English firm of solicitors. The battle to lure away the cream of the City's legal talent from the English firms began in earnest earlier this year when a US firm advertised the first £1m pay packet for an equity partner.

The high salaries are part of a New York remuneration culture that is beginning to be felt in London legal practices. Ms Jones said that some English law firms were now forced to pay their lawyers bonuses in the same way the big banks have been doing for years.

Clare Murray, secretary of the Association of Partnership Practitioners and a legal adviser to a number of American law firms, welcomed the competition. "You can bet that those earning £66,000 will have to work for it," she said. "My understanding is that the American law firms' charge-out rates are lower than English ones but they work longer hours." She added: "Who wouldn't be tempted, especially with the opportunity to transfer to America or Moscow."

While it is well known that a number of "magic circle" lawyers at the top of their field can command £1m, few English firms advertise the fact.

Ms Jones said the Americans can afford to be more bold because they do not offer a general legal service but specialise in areas of international commerce. The American and English firms are fighting to hire and retain the lawyers in international project finance and banking.

Many English firms expect their trainee lawyers to start on fairly low salaries and then work their way up the firm.

Using the "lock-step" system, most English solicitors are paid a fixed amount from the pooled income in proportion to the number of years they have been a partner at the firm. Bonuses, and lawyers being paid only for what work they bring in to the practice, is anathema to English solicitors.

The survey also found other aspects of New York culture filtering through - 89 per cent of US firms have a "dress down" day while at least one firm allows its lawyers to dress down every day. Ms Jones said three of the firms who paid newly qualified lawyers the very highest salaries were Dewey Ballantine, Sullivan & Cromwell and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.