Raft of City firms up NQ salaries amid ongoing pay war

HSF, DLA Piper and HFW among firms to boost pay as Paul Weiss introduces new UK training contract that dishes out market-topping £180k to its NQs

A clutch of firms including Herbert Smith Freehills, DLA Piper and HFW have announced they are upping pay for their newly qualified lawyers in London, amid an ongoing junior salary war that has seen rounds of raises on both sides of the Atlantic.  

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) boosted its NQ pay on 1 July to £135k, a 12.5% increase on its previous £120k. As of the start of September the firm will also increase pay from £50k to £56k for first year trainees and from £55k to £61k for second years.  

“We are investing in our people – including our trainees and associates across all levels of experience – in a way that ensures a balanced and competitive reward structure in a dynamic market,” said Alison Brown, executive partner at Herbert Smith Freehills. “This approach keeps us in the leading pack of international law firms and supports sustainable growth: good for our people, our clients and our business.”

HSF’s raise sees it match Hogan Lovells, which upped pay from £120k to £135k last month, and leapfrog Slaughter and May, the only member of the Magic Circle still dishing out £125k after the rest of the group raised their rates recently to £150k – the highest among the UK firms.  

Meantime DLA Piper will raise NQ pay from £100k to £110k in September, while at the start of this month HFW’s rate increased from £95k to £100k.  

Other firms have also announced pay bumps, with Stephenson Harwood going from £95k to £100k and Bird & Bird from £95k to £98k.   

Commenting on the raise, a Bird & Bird spokesperson said: “Although pay is important, at Bird & Bird, our culture is also central.

“We rank highly in the City as one of the best law firms to work at and that’s a combination of our commitment to fostering an inclusive culture and the cutting-edge nature of a lot of the work our lawyers do.”

HFW’s chief people officer, Corrin Kaye, said that combined with its bonus the firm’s compensation package was “significantly more generous” than its competitors for strong performers. 

She added that compensation “is just one factor in what makes people want to join and stay with a firm, and we always aim to take a broader view by offering the best possible combination of rewarding work for market-leading clients, a friendly and supportive environment, good work-life balance and opportunities to develop”.

GLP understands that HSF has raised salaries for its associates in every band, though the details have not been disclosed. Stephenson Harwood said beyond NQ level it had increased all of its other salary ranges this year, though didn’t disclose figures, while DLA Piper declined to comment beyond saying that its PQE1-5 pay was “determined by a range of factors including performance review; as such there is no set rate”. HFW declined to confirm if it was raising associate pay across the board and Bird & Bird did not respond to requests for comment.   

Meantime Paul Weiss is set to launch a new UK training contract programme in London that will see the cohort earn an eye-watering £180k upon qualifying, matching Quinn Emanuel and Gibson Dunn at the top of the market.  

The first cohort will include between five and 10 trainees, who will begin their training contracts at the firm in 2026. Trainee pay is yet to be finalised, though the firm will provide financial support such as covering law school fees and maintenance grants.  

The programme forms part of an ambitious recruitment drive by the US firm in London, which kicked off last summer with the hire of a four-partner team from Kirkland & Ellis led by private equity heavyweight Neel Sachdev, which also signalled a strategic move to practise English law. 

Since then the firm has added more partners from Kirkland and other rivals including Linklaters, Clifford Chance and Ropes & Gray and now has around 110 lawyers in London – an increase of more than 360% on its year ago count, according to data from Pirical. 

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