The words lawyer, solicitor and barrister immediately conjure up in the general public’s mind a (very) well paid, fairly genteel and stress free job. They picture long lunches with clients and wood panelled offices with large oak desks and afternoons on the golf course. That may well have been the life of a lawyer in the 1940’s but modern lawyers have a rather different existence.
I think the vast majority of the population would be genuinely astonished to learn how difficult it is to get a training contract, how hard you have to work to become an Associate and the sacrifices you have to endure to make Partner.
Friends of mine in the public sector and in professional private sector jobs work nowhere near the hours of my lawyer friends, have nowhere near the stress and earn the same or more money.
As a generalisation outside London high street lawyers below Partner status earn between £20k and £50k. Paralegals anywhere between minimum wage (£13k) and £30k. Salaried partners between £30k and £60k.
Lawyers (again outside London) in Legal 500 style firms and commercial law firms can earn more – almost £40k for a newly qualified and £60k at Associate level and £75k+ at Legal Director / Salaried Partner.
The overwhelming majority of lawyers earn less than a six figure salary for their entire career outside London. For those that do and especially for higher earners in London City and West End firms they really earn their money with working long hours plus marketing and business development that takes their weekly hours to comfortably double those of many non-lawyers.
It was brought sharply into perspective for me recently when I took my car for a service and was quoted £140 per hour for a mechanic for extra work they recommended. People baulk at the rates lawyers charge but £140 per hour is more than most high street lawyers in the country charge. A 2010 legal services report found that crime firms were charging an average of £69 per hour, family £71 per hour, conveyancing / probate / wills £99 per hour and civil litigation £106 per hour.
Of course being a lawyer is not just about the money. But law should be an aspirational profession should it not? We need to be very careful as a society not to push the legal profession too far with Legal Aid cuts, Government reforms and price competition, otherwise potential lawyers will choose other professions – and when you come to need one you will rue the day that we thought it acceptable for mechanics to charge more than lawyers which could lead to you not being ‘serviced’ by the brightest and the best minds in Britain.