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After a strong financial performance in 2004-05, Ashurst, Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and Linklaters have all raised their assistant pay rates, in contrast to most top City firms.
However, none can match the massive hikes at US firm White & Case's London office, which has improved assistant salaries by between 15 and 25 per cent.
Salaries for six-month to four-year-qualified lawyers have shot up at the global firm by 25 per cent with effect from 1 May 2005, while salaries for three-year to six-year-qualified lawyers have seen the most dramatic increase. At the three-year-qualified level, pay has risen from £78,000 to £97,500 and at the four-year-qualified level from £87,000 to £109,000. Newly-qualified lawyers are now paid £63,000 while one-year-qualified lawyers receive £70,000. Six-year-qualified lawyers' salaries have increased by 15 per cent to £120,000, although at this level pay is performance-based and discretionary.
White & Case UK managing partner Neil Upton told The Lawyer: "We had a good year and saw no reason not to pass the benefit to our associates, trainees and other staff. There are some very senior associates on the partnership track and we wanted to recognise their long-term commitment and contribution to the firm."
It is estimated that the pay hike, which will affect some 250 people, will cost White & Case London in the region of £1.5m.
Shearman & Sterling has raised newly-qualified lawyers' pay from £55,000 to £60,000 and this increase is broadly reflected across the board. Head of HR Marcus Franks said: "We looked carefully at our position in comparison to salaries paid by magic circle firms, New York firms and mid-Atlantic firms, and wanted to put more clear blue water between ourselves and the magic circle in order to enhance our competitiveness."
Only three UK firms have increased associates' pay following strong financial performances in 2004.
Ashurst has increased its salaries for one to three-year-qualified lawyers by between 3 and 6 per cent. One-year-qualified lawyers are now paid £56,000, two-year-qualified lawyers £64,000 and three-year-qualified lawyers £70,000. Assistants are also paid a discretionary annual bonus.
BLP has increased three to six-year-qualified assistants' pay by 6 per cent. Three-year-qualifieds will now be paid £65,000, and six-year-qualified lawyers £90,000.
Linklaters has increased its assistants' salaries by 2 per cent across the board and given all staff a £1,700 bonus.
Most top 10 UK firms contacted are not increasing assistants' pay for 2005.