Macfarlanes has upped the ante in the assistant salary war by raising its rates above magic circle levels.
Following the firm’s annual pay review this month, assistants with between 12 and 18 months post-qualification experience can expect to receive £50,000 a year.
It is understood that newly qualifieds will get 8-10 per cent less than this, which still puts them well ahead of their magic circle contemporaries.
The firm will be paying for the hike by encouraging assistants to be more efficient in recording billable time and through increasing the volume and quality of the work.
Macfarlanes does not have formal hourly targets although it does use the assumption that assistants will clock up 1,400-1,500 hours a year for budgetary reasons. The hours are considerably fewer than the 1,700 at Clifford Chance.
Senior partner Robert Sutton remains confident that the hikes will not dent the firm’s considerable profitability.
He adds: “We do not expect [assistants] to work any harder. We do ask [assistants] to be more efficient in recording the time that they spend working for clients.
“If people are efficient and the firm continues to be successful it will be manageable.”
Current charge-out rates are still to be assessed, although Sutton doubts there will be major changes.
The firm is undergoing a recruitment drive in corporate, banking, property and pensions and is aiming to hire from the magic circle.
Sutton argues that the competitive and buoyant market enables lawyers to be more selective about their careers.
He adds: “It is quite worrying what it going on. There are certain people working too hard for too long. People are inclined nowadays to say ‘I want a balanced life’.”
Sutton also doubts that the increase in assistant salaries, started in February by Law Firm of the Year SJ Berwin, is sustainable.