US law firms pay top dollar for young graduates

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The Independent Online

Law firms are offering graduates starting salaries as high as £59,000 and perks including a guarantee of four office parties a year, a survey of the top legal businesses has revealed.

Law firms are offering graduates starting salaries as high as £59,000 and perks including a guarantee of four office parties a year, a survey of the top legal businesses has revealed.

Competition to recruit the cream of the country's legal talent has become so intense that firms are falling over each other to offer the best starting packages, according to the survey by the legal publishers Chambers & Partners.

While one City law firm promises four office parties a year, others boast in-house gyms, free lunches and the offer to pay for all legal fees incurred in moving house. A firm based in Uxbridge, west London, unable to compete with the mighty salaries being offered in the City, promises to provide all its graduates with free legal advice. "There are simply not enough good-quality graduates to go round," said one legal recruitment consultant working for a London firm.

But none of the English law firms can match the high pay packages offered by the American businesses that have opened offices in London. The US firm of attorneys Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton heads the table by setting starting salaries for its qualified lawyers at £59,000. The firm also sponsors its graduates through law school, paying tuition fees and handing out an additional £4,500 spending money for their year at college.

Even the lowest-ranked American firm offered £5,000 more than the highest-placed English firm, Gouldens.

In October a survey of US law firms in Britain found one US office was offering starting salaries of £66,000.

Gill Jones, a consultant at Taylor Root who conducted the survey, 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 battle to woo the cream of the City's legal talent away from the English firms began in earnest last year when an American firm advertised the first £1m pay packet.

The high salaries are part of a New York remuneration culture that is beginning to be felt in London legal practices. Some English law firms are now forced to pay bonuses, just as the big banks have been doing for many years.

Many English firms expect their trainee lawyers to start on fairly low salaries and then work their way up within the firm. Using the "lock-step" system, 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 paying lawyers for the work they bring to the practice are anathema to English solicitors.

City law firms are enjoying boom times with many breaking records in annual profits. But in high-street practices across the country the picture is very different, with some firms paying as little as £11,000.