Salaries for newly qualified lawyers at many City and international law firms have risen by £5,000 in a year. If you are one of the new solicitors benefiting from an increase, congratulations.
But salaries are not a reliable business bellwether. It is an immutable characteristic of the legal sector that private practice must largely ‘build’ in the hope that ‘they’ - clients with instructions - both deign to come, and on arrival do not haggle too hard. Firms bid against one another to build their skill base and then compete for work.
Managing partners know that a failure to compete on salary will, in time, mean that they do not have lawyers with the skills to compete with their peer firms. But the commitments they make to avoid demotion to a lower league saddle them with inflexible costs.
As we saw in 2008/09, when the economy shrinks by 2% a City firm’s revenues can tumble by a quarter. It is worth remembering that in 2008, now-collapsed Dewey & LeBoeuf’s newly qualified lawyers enjoyed a salary of £80,000.
The instability of this business model is inherent, and arguably there is no alternative immediately to hand. But for those joining the profession, it is worth remembering that such figures denote inputs, not outcomes. Statistics on deals actually done make for a more sobering read, as the Gazette recently reported.