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Clifford Chance has done an about turn on salary levels and decided to increase pay for newly-qualified lawyers to £50,000.
Partners at the firm have decided to reverse an earlier decision to resist such a move after rival Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer led the way by hiking its pay to £50,000.
Clifford Chance decided to increase its base pay for lawyers from £43,500 to £48,000, but changed its decision to stay in line with the competition.
The move is likely to leave Allen & Overy (A&O) as the only magic circle firm with newly-qualified salary levels below £50,000, as it has announced a move to £48,000. Linklaters & Alliance and Slaughter and May both plan to make their decisions next week, although on Friday (27 April) Slaughters planned to match the £50,000 base rate.
A&O will make up the difference with a mid-year bonus scheme, under which all fee-earners and support staff will receive at least an extra 16 per cent. It is the first time the firm has given a profit-related bonus firmwide, so although the figures are not finalised, managing partner John Rink says that the rise will be at least 16 per cent.
That takes the firm's newly-qualified pay to nearer the £55,000 mark, and compares with Clifford Chance's bonus scheme, where top-performing newly-qualifieds can get as much as a 10 per cent bonus, which also means up to £55,000. A&O, though, will not award its bonus to its Benelux lawyers, as they operate a separate bonus scheme and are not yet fully integrated. It is understood that this is for tax reasons.
Clifford Chance's worldwide director of human resources John Barnard says: "Our declared intention every year is that we'll be competitive with leading UK firms in the City. While there's obviously an increased level of concern about the general economic outlook, firms are still very busy and there's still a lot of demand for talented people."
Herbert Smith is the first firm outside the magic circle to match the increase to £50,000 and continues the escalating salary hikes.
One magic circle partner says: "It's a bloody waste of money - it's ridiculous."