08 Nov 2021

White & Case raises UK newly qualified salaries to £140k as pay war rages in London

New York firm is the latest of a string of US players battling it out to attract and retain talent in hypercompetitive London market

White & Case is latest US firm to hike NQ pay in London Shutterstock

White & Case has increased salaries for its London newly qualified associates by 8% from £130,000 to £140,000 as it becomes the latest US firm to set fresh terms in the ongoing associate salary war making its way across the London legal market. 

The New York firm’s latest round of salary hikes will also see pay for associates with one year’s post-qualification experience (PQE) rise from £137,500 to £147,500 effective 1 January, while those two years out of qualification will see their salaries jump from £150,000 to £160,000. 

Trainees are also getting a boost, with first and second-year trainees receiving a £2000 pay bump from £50,000 and £57,000 respectively. Salary hikes for lawyers with three to nine years’ PQE are ‘discretionary’ but are expected to be as ‘competitive’ as those detailed in full, the firm said in a statement. 

White & Case, which is celebrating the 50th year of its City presence, has more than 400 lawyers in London and currently recruits around 50 trainees into its London trainee programme each year. London revenue last year of £397m made it the third largest US firm in London by revenue, behind Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins, according to the The Lawyer.

“The London office is pivotal to the firm’s global ambitions and continued success,” a spokesperson for the firm said. “White & Case is committed to being a great place to work with a diverse, supportive, collegial team and strong business platform. This combination of reward, benefits, support and progressive working environment is compelling.”

By setting its newly-qualified pay benchmark at £140,000, White & Case has placed itself behind Ropes & Gray, which last Friday announced a 13% increase in pay to £147,000, according to Legal Cheek, with Morrison & Foerster having recently settled on £147,500. Other firms reported by Legal Cheek as offering £140k-plus salaries for newly qualified associates include Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Latham, Kirkland and Milbank.

Magic Circle UK firms have also been reviewing NQ salaries recently, with Linklaters boosting salaries for the third time this year in September to £107,500 plus a performance bonus, a change that was matched by Allen & Overy a month later, The Law Society Gazette reported.

Meanwhile, City Am reports today that Norton Rose Fulbright is increasing pay for newly qualified London lawyers by 12 per cent to £95,000 from 1 January,

The salary war in the UK, anchored by strong financial performances by firms over the past year, largely reflects the ongoing battle to stand out in a hypercompetitive recruiting market, especially as firms grapple to keep lawyers happy in the face of surging work volumes. 

Nick Robbins, founder of legal recruiter Nicholas Scott, said firms are trending towards an increase in base salaries with a reduction in the percentage of total compensation coming from bonus structures, adding that associates tend to be more attracted to higher base salaries as opposed to the hold of the retention bonus system. 

“Salary rises are being driven by the need to compete in the merry-go-round of associates moving, but it is really the new reality of the New York law firms' influence and their levelling up of associate compensation packages on a worldwide basis,” he said. 

This summer, a similar salary war raged stateside after Milbank fired the starting gun by raising first-year associate salaries by $10,000 to $200,000, with its most senior associates receiving $355,000.

Milbank’s move was followed closely by Davis Polk, which upped associate salaries a week later to between $202,500 and $365,000 per year depending on seniority level, a move that was quickly matched by Proskauer Rose and Baker McKenzie, among others.

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