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Gouldens has propelled itself into the realms of the US firms by increasing its trainees' entry-level salaries to £30,000.
The boost means 36-partner Gouldens pays significantly above global giant Clifford Chance for both trainees and newly qualifieds.
Gouldens has always had a reputation for paying trainees and assistants more than many of its rivals. It first announced a leap in rates in the early 1980s.
But in its November salary review (the firm also reviews in May), it decided to up trainees' pay from £27,000 to £30,000. Every six months that will rise by £1,000 until qualification, when it will go up by £17,000 to £50,000.
Clifford Chance pays its entry-level trainees £25,000, going up to £28,000 in the second year. The salary increases to £42,000 upon qualification.
Gouldens' rates have more in common with US firms, which have historically always paid more than UK practices (see box for examples). Gouldens managing partner Charters Macdonald-Brown says the increases are not a knee jerk reaction but a way of attracting the best applicants.
The firm employs on average between 12 and 20 trainees each year. It does not rotate trainees through different seats; instead it allows them to work concurrently in the firm's three practice areas - corporate, property and litigation. It also has a high retention rate of trainees, with a number of its younger partners originally joining as trainees.
Macdonald-Brown says the firm is predominantly paying for the rises through a profitable year. But he adds: "As partners we could push ourselves up the profit per equity partner tables quite easily. But that would be short term. We take a view that we have quite enough money and so should pass it on."
According to The Lawyer 100 survey 2000, Gouldens posted a 19.6 per cent rise in turnover to £33.5m. Profits per partner also rose from £440,000 to £512,000. Clifford Chance's average profits per partner are £685,000.