The BBC recently commissioned a cross-sector analysis of average wage levels around the UK (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43729508). The article highlights trends in salaries and the influence on them of education and skill levels, access to senior roles and high-paying clientele, and different costs of living. Amongst the obvious conclusions – you guessed it, it pays to work in London – were a number of anomalous results; salaries in Milton Keynes outstripping those in Oxford and Cambridge; Derby sitting tenth in the country whilst Leicester, only 30 miles away, lay well below national average for example.
As an international legal recruiter with a nationwide reach, regional and indeed global salary comparisons are an integral part of our day to day business and so it made us wonder what a similar survey of the legal profession, at NQ level, might uncover.
Once again, London stands out with NQ’s at City firms commanding an annual salary upwards of £60,000, and even that dwarfed by some at the elite Magic Circle firms where juniors are typically bringing in over £90,000 per annum. This reflects not only the high-competition for legal talent in the City but also the high-value work they do and the high charge out rates they command to clients. In contrast, an NQ lawyer at an elite firm in the major regional legal centres might be on half of that salary with Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and Cambridge all sitting somewhere around the high £30,000’s to low £50,000’s. There are some regional exceptions where National law firms have influence and salaries are elevated such as Bristol, Guildford and Reading. Edinburgh typically can offer in the region of £40,000 Move outside of the larger cities and the contrast is more stark; life in beautiful Dorset might appeal to a lot of us, but be prepared to start on a salary somewhere between £22,000 and £33,000 as the work-life balance swings in favour of "life" whilst East Anglia (with the exclusion of Cambridge) tops out around £38,000, similar to the southern home counties (up to £39,000).
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that on money alone, London is the place to be - it’s enough to make you wonder why any NQ works in the regions, but they do. What’s more, many want to, and as the millennials enter the legal profession, evidence suggests that for some, issues such as job satisfaction, work-life balance and ease of commute are as high, if not higher on the agenda than salary. Medium term goals such as Partnership and equity sharing are generally achievable within reasonable timescales with the increased remuneration making the choice of provincial law firms an exciting prospect.
Our advice? If you’re approaching qualification, consider ALL of your options, thinking carefully about what you really want from your career. If you are driven to work in one of the world’s pre-eminent legal centres and you thrive on the pressure and expectations that accompany it, London has it all and more. If you want high-quality work in a good firm with a strong brand and excellent prospects, but without the London ‘lifestyle’, the market leaders in the big regional centres can offer the perfect compromise. If you love the law but you want a great work-life balance, clients who you can really get to know, and you’re prepared to build your career with a smaller firm outside the big legal centres might well be your ticket to happiness.
And, if none of the above quite fit the bill, talk to our offshore and international team about a whole new set of options – perhaps the Channel Islands for example, where you can earn a City level salary, pay less tax and still be at the beach in time for an evening drink!