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Reality check on legal sector salaries

As in any profession, your remuneration is dependent on the amount of experience you gain and how ambitious you are

If you watch popular television series about lawyers, such as LA Law or Suits, you can be excused for thinking it represents a life of glamour and high-flyers. The reality is somewhat more mundane and only those with experience at the top of the profession can attract salaries that will pay for an Aston Martin in the drive.

This is not to say that high salaries are not attainable; however, it requires years of dedication and depends on which sector of the law you are working in, the size of the company or law firm you work for, and whether the company is British or American. Consider carefully which branch of law you will work in, as some are more commercially viable than others.

There is no standard starting salary for a trainee solicitor, although employers are obliged to pay the legal minimum wage. You could expect a salary of up to £25,000 in a competitive market, while some of the larger firms in the City will pay £40,000 and beyond.

You are advised to research before applying to any company. Don’t be afraid to ask what your prospective salary might be; however, bear in mind that although you might have a relevant degree, there is still a lot to learn in a new position and be realistic about your aspirations.

Once you have qualified as a solicitor, you can expect an annual remuneration of between £25,000 and £40,000 in smaller or regional practices, while those in larger firms or in the City can expect £58,000 to £65,000. If employed by an American firm with UK offices, salaries tend to be considerably higher, with some paying a starting salary of £100,000.

For experienced and more senior solicitors, the salaries can vary considerably and depend on your expertise in particular subjects. In commercial firms, senior lawyers can command salaries of between £60,000 and £90,000.

The salary for trainee barristers varies from £12,000 to £50,000, again dependent upon the size of the firm and where it is located. It is important to factor in the cost of the courses you must undertake, which can range between £25,000 and £35,000.

Once a practising barrister, salaries are determined in accordance with market rates. Junior barristers attending court for criminal cases might only get a daily rate of £50, while those with 10 years’ experience can look forward to salaries in line with any skilled work in professional sectors such as medicine.

Whereas there are barristers who achieve an annual salary of over £1m, the majority will settle at around £130,000 depending on their speciality. It is worth noting that the law changes constantly; therefore, what might currently be a profitable sector could diminish in commercial terms. The work of house conveyancing, for example, is now completed by licensed conveyancers rather than solicitors.

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