Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Senior Solicitors more at Risk of Redundancy than the Office Cleaner

The Law Society Gazette recently (July 2020) ran an article regarding the concern at Magic Circle and city firms that newly qualified solicitors will be seeing pay cuts and it may be a rocky year ahead for newly qualified and trainee solicitors.  

Struggling NQ City Solicitors?  

Examples are given by the Gazette of Allen and Overy paying £90,000 to newly qualified solicitors rather than £100,000 and Clifford Chance cutting newly qualified pay to £94,500. Hogan Lovells trainees will receive £85,000 as opposed to £90,000 when they qualify.

The Law Society Gazette talks about newly qualified pay bouncing back the following year and it being a worry for newly qualified solicitors that they are going to get these low levels of salary.


Vodafone Chief - a Dislike for Law Firms 

On the next page of the Gazette there is actually an article from the Head of Legal at Vodafone who has said she is troubled by rapid moves to lay off junior lawyers and to further support staff in private practice law firms. It looks as if the head of legal at Vodafone, Rosemary Martin, did not enjoy her time when she was in private practice as she says that she felt very uncomfortable that huge attention was paid to the partners and hardly anything was paid to all the other people in the law firms. 

Surely Some Mistake? 

We think both the Gazette and the Head of Legal at Vodafone are mistaken. Although salaries may be slightly dented to levels only high street solicitors can dream of, the likelihood is that, rather than junior lawyers being overly affected by the pandemic, it is much more likely that this is going to be the middle level of lawyers in private practice and in house. 

Anecdotal Evidence

Our anecdotal experience so far is that the solicitors most likely to have been laid off or furloughed at the start of the pandemic are solicitors in their 50's, working full time, but not at equity partner level. 

There are obviously good business reasons for this. It makes sense for a struggling law firm with high overheads to seize the opportunity to get rid of their highest expense. A 50-year-old senior solicitor costs money whereas a 25-year-old newly qualified solicitor on a fairly low level of salary does not cost as much. 

When the work picks up obviously equity partners and senior staff will be undertaking as much of the work as they possibly can to maintain their fee levels and using the assistance of the more junior staff. 

Partners Retain Work


It is similarly possible that the equity partners and senior staff will retain as much of the work for themselves as possible in order to justify their existence and by doing so deprive the next level down in terms of staffing from any fee earning opportunities. It is these members of staff who we think are more likely to face layoff and redundancy rather than the junior staff. 

Dreamworld Salaries


The figures given in the Law Society Gazette for the central London city firms are salaries that most of the 120,000 solicitors in England & Wales can only dream of throughout their career even when they are 30 to 40 years qualified.. It is these figures of course that get picked up in the press and grossly distort the earning potential for most legal practitioners in the UK who can only dream of receiving salary of this kind of scale.

Gap in the Market

The senior staff who have been laid off already or face redundancy over the coming months are those most likely to be lost to the profession forever. Our experience back in 2008 was that the same thing happened. Firms actively recruited younger and more junior members of staff and overlooked senior members of staff and those above 45 years old. 

High Locum Numbers

It is partly why there is currently a glut of locum solicitors desperately seeking work in certain areas of law because they turned to locuming when the last recession hit and have not been back into permanent work sense. Moving from locum to permanent is a very difficult thing to do at the best of times and it has been an issue for many years that firms actively discriminate against anyone who has tasted the freedom of locum work when looking to recruit into permanent roles.

To give another anecdotal example of why older solicitors are more likely to lose their jobs and then struggle to get back into the market is a telephone call I had recently with a senior partner of the firm looking to sell his practice and retire. He wanted to take on a partner to join his practice and eventually purchase his equity and I duly sourced him a good candidate with their own following and an active interest in taking equity in the medium term. His immediate response was virtually to rule this person out because they appeared to be of a certain age.

More at Risk than the Office Cleaner

So if you are a fairly senior solicitor and do not have an equity-linked position I suspect you are more at risk of losing your job than the office cleaner.

The high risk category back in 2008 was quite clearly anyone aged over 45, working in a full time role on a salary at the higher end for the firm they work for.


Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment and a non-practising Solicitor. Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment provides online Legal Recruitment for Solicitors, Legal Executives, Fee Earners, Support Staff, Managers and Paralegals. Visit our Website to search our Vacancy Database. Our Legal Careers Shop has eBooks on CV Writing for Lawyers, Legal Job Interview Guide, Interview Answers for Lawyers, NQ Career Guide, Guide to Finding Work Experience or a Training Contract and the Entrants Guide to the Legal Profession.

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