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Salary Survey and Market Overview 2018

Feb 2018

The year by no means got off to a smooth start, following the capitulation of King & Wood Mallesons there was certainly an air of uncertainty around how the market would react to a post-Brexit landscape. 

However, firms grasped this opportunity to evolve, and if there was one key trend we can take out of the past year, it is that firms are now in a state of progression and unafraid to take risks to stand out from the crowd.

We’ve observed this progression manifest itself in a range of strategic hires and growth of functions.

Firms have invested in projects and change infrastructure, as well as senior level hires across IT, Risk, Marketing and BD and even in some cases, Innovation. Notwithstanding this firms have also acknowledged the changing roles that support teams play, with many firms relocating support functions such as PA and secretarial en-masse to low cost centres both across the UK and further afield internationally.

The good news surrounding legal innovation is that we certainly seem to be a part of a reliant post-Brexit landscape, and change is being driven from a need to meet the evolving demands of legal services rather than a mandatory cost saving exercise.

For several firms in the City, change has meant new service and product offerings as the industry braces itself for the rise of Artificial Intelligence and technological advancement alongside alternative client service initiatives, consulting services and fixed pricing models. US firms have made a huge amount of headway in lateral hires, with Skadden, Lathams, Paul Weiss and Gibson Dunn to name a few continuing an aggressive trend of market absorption in the London Market. This trend in the American firms has also been replicated across their business support functions, investing in senior level headcount for support functions more so than their UK counterparts.


Firms are hiring! The recruitment market is busier than ever across the legal space, and firms are reacting through flexible approaches to talent attraction, whether that is the ability to support a more flexible workforce or base roles outside of London. We have also placed a record number of part-time roles across 2017 showcasing the continually growing importance of adapting to the talent community and thinking outside of the box. 81% of our survey responses indicated that they have a strong work-life balance, with more than 1/3 of responses noting that they had access to flexible working arrangements.

We’ve also noticed that firms have invested in their own talent pipelines more than ever over the past year, realising the potential for growth and development within internal functions. Roles have diversified, and layers have been added to enable people to develop within their remits, securing long term and sustainable growth of teams through training, development and added responsibility as an alternative to retention through financial reward.

Hiring was boosted in 2017 and bucked a trend of other sectors gearing up for a seismic shift in how London reacts to a post-Brexit world. However, we saw that confidence in job security was the opposite from a candidate’s viewpoint, with a massive 65% of people saying that they didn’t feel secure in their job. This was interesting and clearly highlights a key issue in relation to retention of staff in the legal sector; that positive and honest communication is integral to achieving long-term confidence and happiness.


Again, wages have risen over the past year on average, however at a slower rate than previous years, with a cap forming in terms of pay towards the senior end of the market; reflected by 30% of our survey demographic saying that they hadn’t in fact had a pay rise, and out of those that had almost half said it was less than 3%.

Firms have taken a stalwart approach to making sure that salaries at the top end haven’t spiralled out of control across business services. That said, salaries at the lower end continually edge up, driven by raising expectations at a graduate level and the fact that we’re still in a talent short market. As for benefits, with 49% indicating that they received no bonus, firms are clearly leaning on softer benefits to reward and develop their internal talent communities.


As we look ahead into 2018; we undoubtedly still face a talent shortage across the legal sector with proven and experienced individuals few and far between. With salary and career progression still acting as the main drivers for candidates, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to meet the demands of clients and laterally move talent across at the same level.

However, as salaries start to stagnate we think that we’ll certainly see this drive more people to market, alongside large scale organisational changes, candidates are seeking greater stability and confidence in their own development and progression. As expert recruiters in the legal sector Career Legal are here to discuss how this will affect your recruitment strategy across 2018, and how we can help identify the best possible talent for your firm. We hope you find our survey insight informative and influential for the year ahead.


  • Lexcel

Our sister company Hudson York Farrel
specialises in commercial recruitment


Our sister company DVF
specialises in change and transformation recruitment

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