Paul Hastings, Sidley Austin and Ropes & Gray latest to hike London NQ pay

US firms raise salaries to £173k, £166.5k and £165k respectively as pay wars continue
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Paul Hastings, Sidley Austin and Ropes & Gray have become the latest US firms to increase pay for their newly qualified (NQ) lawyers in London, as the junior salary wars continue.  

Paul Hastings’ NQs will see their salary grow 5% from £164k to £173k, off the back of the firm changing its associate pay scale from an exchange rate of £1 to $1.31 to £1 to $1.30.  

Meantime Sidley Austin has boosted pay to £166.5k, up 4.4% from the previous pay packet of £159.5k, while Ropes & Gray’s new figure of £165k represents an eye-catching 12% increase on the £147k its NQs were receiving before.  

The increase at Ropes was effective 1 January and excludes bonuses. The firm has also raised its London trainee salaries. As of 1 January, first year trainees will earn £60k (up from £57.5k) while second year trainees will receive £65k (up from £62.5k).  

The raises continue the latest wave of salary hikes for London associates of US firms. Earlier this month, Davis Polk and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton hiked NQ pay by 3% to £170k and £164.5k respectively. 

That followed Weil Gotshal & Manges lifting pay last December from £165k to £170k.  

Elite UK firms have also been upping NQ pay, though they still lag far behind their US rivals, which benefit from being anchored in the lucrative US market. Slaughter and May increased pay by nearly 9% at the start of last November to £125k, a move that saw it match its Magic Circle rivals Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters and overtake Baker McKenzie and Hogan Lovells, which upped NQ pay earlier in 2023 to £118k and £120k.  

Allen & Overy and Linklaters had raised their NQ pay to £125k earlier last year, having failed to match Clifford Chance and Freshfields in raising their rates in 2022, citing challenging market conditions.   

The UK increases also echo pay hikes in the US, where Milbank fired the starting gun on the latest round of raises early last November when it said it was upping pay for all its associates by $10k to create a new salary scale starting at $225k, rising to $425k for the class of 2016. 

Three weeks later elite Wall Street firm Cravath Swaine & Moore – repeatedly the pacesetter for pay among the top US firms – went one better, equalling Milbank’s salaries for junior associates but paying its mid-level and senior associates between $5k and $10k more than their contemporaries at Milbank. 

A raft of US firms announced shortly after that they would match the so-called ‘Cravath scale’, among them McDermott Will & Emery, Kirkland & Ellis, Paul Hastings, Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz, Paul Weiss, Dechert, Hogan Lovells, Proskauer Rose, Baker McKenzie, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Sidley Austin and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. 

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