What’s the average salary for a solicitor?

by Heat Recruitment

We break down a number of trends that are causing the average solicitor salary to spike

With trainee solicitors predicted to receive a subtle pay rise, leading law firms offering newly qualified (NQ) solicitors staggeringly high salaries, and regional law firms attempting to lure top talent out of London, we’re seeing a number of trends affecting solicitors’ salaries.

However, determining the average salary for a solicitor isn’t a straightforward task – and salaries can vary vastly. While salaries for an NQ solicitor start at around £23,000, an experienced solicitor with five years’ Post-Qualified Experience (PQE) could take home an annual pay packet of up to £68,000.

So, let’s take a look at the five key factors influencing the average solicitor salary.

Formal qualifications

Typically, a solicitor will have taken one of three routes into the legal sector: a law degree followed by the Legal Practice Course (LPC); an alternative degree, conversion course and LPC; or accreditation by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) for those who didn’t attend university.

Some of these routes do take longer than others but rest assured – once you become a Newly Qualified (NQ) solicitor, your practical experience and law firm of choice will have a much greater impact on your earnings.

Practical experience

The correlation between experience and salary is simple – generally speaking, each year of hands-on experience will boost your annual salary by £2,000-£3,000. The more senior the role you’re applying for, the more specialist your experience will be expected to be. But in more junior roles, being able to demonstrate a varied and adaptable skillset can be really valuable.

It’s now far more common for junior solicitors to handle admin duties, as many legal support roles are being replaced by automated technologies. So, aside from proving their ability to provide sound legal advice, it’s also important to demonstrate flexibility and impeccable organisational skills too.

Proximity to London

It’s no surprise that London-based law firms offer higher salaries, but it can vary quite vastly in other areas of the UK too. Let’s take a solicitor with four years’ experience, for example. They’ll typically receive an average salary of £37,000 if they’re based in the capital. However, this would drop to as little as £32,500 in the North East. Outside of London, the next highest paying region is the South East, closely followed by the South West.

Specialist practice area

The term ‘solicitor’ is incredibly broad, covering areas such as commercial, corporate, personal injury, divorce and employment. As talent for specialist legal roles becomes increasingly difficult to find, law firms are willing to pay the price for solicitors that can fully understand their clients’ individual needs.

Commercial and corporate solicitors are the highest earners, as they receive generous remuneration for dealing with high-profile, international clients. Across the country, there’s fierce competition to land a role in these popular areas of practice. Regional law firms have begun to raise their base salary offerings, tempting some of the UK’s best legal talent to move away from the capital.

In contrast, family lawyers and personal injury lawyers tend to be based in much smaller firms and work on local cases. Unsurprisingly, their salaries reflect this.

Choice of law firm

If you’ve been keeping up with the latest news in the legal sector, you’ll have seen an influx of London-based firms hiking up salaries for their NQ lawyers – and not just those in the elusive magic circle. Most recently, Covington & Burling upped theirs to £120,000 – a 20 per cent rise – matching offerings from Cleary Gottlieb, Gibson Dunn, Ropes & Gray and Shearman & Sterling. Plenty of others, such as Clifford Chance and Freshfields, are using a six-figure incentive as they go head-to-head to recruit the city’s best lawyers.

As a result, this is driving salaries even higher in the rest of the UK. Although these regional law firms can’t quite match the figures, they do offer a unique and much desired benefit – a better work-life balance away from the capital’s hustle and bustle. For many junior lawyers, sacrificing their work-life balance comes at a high price, and it’s one only the largest and most influential law firms can afford to pay.

Looking for more information? In our salary survey, we compared salaries for seven different legal roles, from Legal Assistant to Partner.

View our Legal Salary Survey 2020