Most people not involved in the legal industry might have a common misconception that every solicitor in the UK is earning an above-average salary. However, as many recent law graduates can attest, higher salaries are not always the norm. In some cases, it can take a lawyer several years to achieve a comfortable living.
The variance in solicitors’ salaries originates with the area of practice, geographic location, and experience. Each contributing factor can greatly increase an individual salary in relation to the national average.
The national average salary for a UK solicitor is about £65,000. New and trainee solicitors frequently face the greatest departures from the national average. A starting salary for either can be as much as £25,000 below the average. As young solicitors gain experience and acknowledgement, they also earn more. Opportunities for advancement come with both training in a new area of law, vertical moves, and relocation. Some larger firms may attract talent by offering salaries that are more competitive.
While NQ solicitors are typically at the lower end of any salary chart, there is ample room for additional earnings. Once qualified, experience adds up quickly for lawyers. In some instances, the salary difference between an NQ and a solicitor with a 3 PQE rating can be £20,000.
For trainees, the situation is quite different. A recent survey showed that as much as 1/3 of trainee solicitors earn less than the minimum recommended by the Law Society.
The discrepancies between newly qualified solicitors and those accumulating demonstrate the importance of qualification and admittance to the roll in England and Wales. A year of experience generally refers to a year of holding a Practising Certificate, but even a lawyer who may not be practising can earn credit towards a salary increase based on PQE.
Gaining experience and advancing education also lead to salary increases. For instance, a 3 PQE lawyer with some business education who has passed a management course recognised by the Law Society can supervise an office. With additional responsibility often come increases in salary.
Salary is just one component of any position. Regardless of the firm or the type of law, many solicitors weigh personal choices — relationships, location, intangible benefits — against their career. A sustaining salary is necessary, but not an exclusive adjunct to your quality of life and personal comfort. One firm may offer a candidate a lower overall salary, but the benefits of a flexible schedule or guaranteed days off.
Whatever the choices, every solicitor from trainees to partners will at some point face the question of salary requirements. Package offers, earnings trends, and the economy all affect the decision of what to pursue or accept and what is adequate for every individual circumstance. Interpreting the data and contrasting the average is often more complex than simply choosing the highest number.