Sometimes, not all the time, but just sometimes, I wish I was a lawyer. It’s not just for the work and it’s not just for the status – sometimes I’d like to be a lawyer simply because most of them make absolute shovel-loads of money.
More specifically, being a US lawyer seems to be the path to bank balance heaven, especially if you happen to get a posting to your firm’s London office.
For this year’s The Lawyer UK 100 Annual Report, published on 6 September, international firms in London were asked about cost of living allowances gifted to their lawyers who transfer abroad. We undertook these enquiries because the dollar value dropped at the end of 2003 and, at $1.83 against sterling at the time of going to press, is still weaker than a frail little kitten.
For lawyers moving to London, who will most probably continue to be paid in dollars, their wage is actually worth much less compared with this time last year. Hence why lots of firms in London have been radically rethinking what top-ups lawyers should receive on relocation. Incidentally, I’m told that another factor in firms offering allowances, which they have been doing for years, is that London is now more expensive than Manhattan. I’m not so sure about that. US taxis are much cheaper than our own black cabs, but the reason for that is New York’s yellow perils are, on the whole, rubbish. Last time I was there I asked to be taken to Wall Street. Unfortunately, the driver didn’t have the first clue where that was. No wonder a taxi journey only costs a dollar and a couple of Twinkies.
Anyway, I digress. The point is that firms have now upped cost of living allowances to quite startling levels.
At the forefront is Simpson Thacher & Bartlett after increasing a lump sum payment to its own US-qualified associates of just over $70,000 (£38,000) a year, beating other big spenders of the likes of Sullivan & Cromwell, which gives its lawyers a measly $50,000 (£27,000) allowance.
So, if a first-year qualified lawyer earns $140,000 (£77,000) a year, with a Simpson Thacher sized pay-out they will get £115,000 based on the current dollar rate. If the salary and allowance is protected, say at last year’s average of $1.64, the lawyer would get £128,000 – that’s nearly as much as a young salaried partner gets at Allen & Overy.
What’s wrong with an American just moving over here to widen their experience and enjoy li’l old London town, with its pearly kings and queens and that well known cockerney Dick Van Dyke. Do they really need all that extra dosh?