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UK Firm of the Year 2014: Pay
07 February 2014
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The US dominates the pay category in RollOnFriday's Firm of the Year 2014. Satisfied staff voted Yankee firms into every one of the top five spots.

Firm of the Year Latham & Watkins and Kirkland & Ellis both scored 100% for staff satisfaction with pay. "Best salary in the market", says one Lathams lawyer. Although, "let's face it, it has to be", says another; it's the only way to attract lawyers  "from the MC and other 'top' firms". That approach seems to be working for Kirkland, where one lateral hire asks why he would ever "go back to the Magic Circle for the same hours and half the salary". Most respondents highlight the moolah as the main source of their happiness. "Not many NQs get 100k + bonus!" says one, while another writes dreamily that money "floats about the place".

  Everyone agreed rewiring the sprinklers had been an excellent idea

Freshfields and Travers Smith are the highest-ranking UK firms for pay, taking equal sixth place. One non-fee-earner at Freshfields says it has the "highest paid support jobs in the City". Fee-earners at the firm aren't as vocal. The pay packet, says one associate, "looks good until you realise you are expected to sacrifice every waking hour and then some". But many hand it top marks anyway. Yes, the partners "really do get their pound of flesh in return", but the "excellent" quality of transactions and the prestige of working in the Magic Circle justifies the "relatively low pay" compared to US counterparts. At Travers the verdict on pay ranges from "good" to "fantastic" (though many agree that the firm-wide bonus is "derisory").

The compensation of a life outside work is a key reason why lots of the firms at the top of the table are there. "When people are complaining about leaving at 7 you know you are onto a good thing", says a Burges Salmon associate. "I get paid less than most of the people we see on the other side of deals," says another, "but I leave the office between 5:30 and 6 most days with nary an eyebrow raised (or not that I've noticed...)". And as a result, they hand the firms good scores for pay.

The story changes as one moves down the table, and round the u-bend. Things are so-so at DLA Piper (55%), where "we have a Knight of the Round Table as our leader", only problem is, "our Knight imposes an extremely high levy on the spoils of his servants". Further down, one home-grown Eversheds (46%) associate complains that the salary "starts off competitive", then quickly tails off until increases are best detected "by the same equipment used to measure tectonic plate movements".

But things seem truly miserable at the very bottom. Golden Turd runner-up Clarke Willmott took bottom for pay with a woeful 28%. "The dreadful pay only looks good compared to the worse levels of morale", says one lawyer. "Rubbish trainee salaries", says a new recruit. Staff are almost as hacked off with their pay at Parabis, the survey newcomer who landed with a splash by securing the Golden Turd on its first attempt. "Salaries are low and barely move", grumbles one inmate. But the most colourful complaints come from third-worst performer DAC Beachcroft, where lawyers "would earn more cleaning the files than running them" and the "below par" salaries are "likely due to the firm's apparent refusal to cut the dead-wood partners and feckless associates". Gulp.
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