How much can I earn in law?
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There are many careers available in the field of law. This article explores the salaries you could earn as you begin your career and how they could grow as you progress.
Salaries for solicitors can vary greatly. A firm’s location, and types of clients, makes the biggest difference, with London offices paying the most.
According to a 2016 survey of graduate recruiters carried out by our graduate careers website targetjobs.co.uk, most big London firms undertaking commercial work offer salaries between £38,000 and £42,000 to first-year trainee solicitors. Salaries on qualification as a solicitor with these firms are between £60,000 and £70,000. Trainee salaries with large firms outside of London can reach the £35,000 mark and may rise to around £47,000 for newly qualified solicitors. If you progress to the role of partner, your salary could easily exceed £100,000 – with anything up to £1,000,000 being possible at large, international law firms.
Salaries tend to be lower at small, local firms found in towns and cities across the UK. At these ‘high street’ firms a trainee solicitor usually earns up to £20,000 and once they have qualified this typically increases to between £20,000 and £30,000.
Large commercial law firms offer several benefits and bonuses, including pension schemes and life assurance, but some provide more unusual perks. Many of the big firms offer gym membership and private healthcare, while Shoosmiths gives a free day off and a gift on your birthday, and Simmons & Simmons provides music and singing lessons.
All future barristers need to complete a year of practical, on-the-job training at a barristers’ set of chambers, known as pupillage. The Bar Standards Board has stipulated that all 12-month pupillages must carry a minimum pupillage award of £12,000. The most generous pupillage awards are available from commercial chambers, where barristers advise big companies rather than individuals – these are typically in the region of £40,000 to £50,000 for 12 months. Awards are lower at chambers carrying out publicly funded work such as family or criminal law. For example, 3PB Chambers awards £27,000 for a 12-month pupillage; many criminal sets offer less.
It is difficult to predict how your salary could increase as your career progresses because barristers are self-employed. Barristers’ salaries depend on the type of work they are doing and the clients they work for. If you gain the status of Queen’s Counsel you are likely to earn between £100,000 and £1,000,000 – although some QCs earn less and others more.
A chartered legal executive is a qualified lawyer who specialises in a particular area of law. The 2015 Wage Watch Survey for the Chartered Institute for Legal Executives states that salaries vary according to location and area of law. Starting salaries usually range from £15,000 to £28,000. In general, chartered legal executives’ salaries range from £35,000 to £55,000 and can be much higher.
In-house lawyers are qualified solicitors and barristers employed by big organisations and companies such as the BBC and BT. These roles can offer shorter hours and better conditions than other jobs in law, but people are not normally able to join an in-house team until they have been in the profession for a couple of years.
A survey by the Law Society in 2015 found that the average salary was £87,000. Average earnings were highest in Greater London (£100,000) and lowest in the North (£60,000).
A paralegal is trained in legal matters and performs tasks requiring some knowledge of the law and legal procedures. There is no national pay scale for paralegals but you do not need a degree to become one.
Salaries vary widely depending on the area of law (eg family or property law), where in the country you work, level of responsibility and your experience. According to the Institute of Paralegals, salaries range from £14,000–£22,000 at entry level or £18,000–£25,000 as a graduate. This usually rises to £30,000–£40,000 for more experienced paralegals and bigger firms can pay up to £55,000.
Apprenticeships are relatively new in the legal profession but are growing. Firms are starting to offer more law-based apprenticeships as time goes on. For example, Field Fisher offer a school leaver programme on a starting salary of £16,000 that leads to qualification as a legal executive after five years in the role.
Legal secretaries perform administrative duties for law offices such as transcribing reports, filing, customer service and assisting lawyers and paralegals when needed. You do not need a degree to get a job as a legal secretary, and salaries can vary dramatically depending on your responsibilities, the type of firm you work for and the area of the country you are working in.
Salaries in London start at around £20,000 and experienced legal secretaries can earn up to £40,000, according to the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs.
The selection process for becoming a judge is tough, and you will need extensive legal experience as a barrister or solicitor before becoming a judge. Judges tend to earn more than £100,000 even at the lower end of the scale, and this figure increases to more than £240,000 for the highest position as Lord Chief Justice.