Lawyers across the profession have reacted with derision to widely reported statistics suggesting that six-figure salaries and large pay rises are the norm.    

Emolument, a website that compiles salary data, reported on Wednesday that lawyers can earn up to £100,000 after five years. The figures were based on data from 396 legal professionals working in the UK.

The research was reported in today’s Telegraph and The Times newspapers – the day after legal aid lawyers gathered in London to protest against cuts to fees and curbs on access to justice. 

Legal aid lawyers and professional bodies pointed out that Emolument’s figures reflected only the high end of the commercial sector. ‘It was a small survey that probably only focused on the City and doesn’t reflect the reality of many lawyers, and certainly not those who work at the coalface doing publicly funded work,’ solicitor-advocate Julian Young told the Gazette.

‘The lowest salary I have heard of is for a duty solicitor who earns £18,000 a year. And with the new [legal aid] contracts, some solicitors may find themselves on zero-hour contracts,’ he said. Young said the research was concerning because it could be used to support a narrative of ‘fat cat’ lawyers to turn public sympathy against the legal aid cuts protests. 

Emolument’s research shows average earnings for lawyers with up to five years’ experience of £54,000, rising to £180,000 after 15 years. Cambridge graduates fared the best, earning an average of £99,000 after five to 10 years, the figures said. 

Law Society president, Andrew Caplen (pictured), said that it was important to put issues of salary in context.

‘Areas of legal specialism, location and employer all affect levels of pay… The reality for many lawyers who devote their careers to serving the public in pursuit of justice, through the Crown Prosecution Service and the legal aid sector, is a salary of often less than £20k,’ he said.

‘These lawyers represent some of the most vulnerable in the civil and criminal courts in the face of government freezes and cuts in pay.’ 

The Criminal Bar Association agreed – noting that ‘the cynical may note the timing of the research’.