Less than a year after taking the significant step of cutting the salaries of its newly-qualifiedlawyers, Clifford Chance has been forced to return its base-rate of pay to the market standard of 50,000, putting the firm in the unusual position of playing catch-up.
Historically, the firm has been hugely successful in leading from the front: it boasted the first transatlantic merger and it was the first firm to move to Canary Wharf. It was also, after all, the first of the magic circle to enter 2000s salary war and, therefore, was one of the principal architects of todays inflated pay scales for junior lawyers.
Last year, it decided that its rates of pay for newly-qualifieds were unsustainable, but for once the firm failed to convince any of its key rivals to follow suit. The deficit may have been only 2,000, with significant bonuses offered on top of the basic salary (at 18 months post-qualification experience these can be up to 20 per cent of base-rate), but it still caused sufficient irritation internally to force a U-turn.
To add insult to injury, Linklaters, as part of a firmwide 2 per cent salary hike, has since extended the benchmark by becoming the first of the magic circle to break the 50,000 barrier, albeit by just 1,000.
Money is, of course, a key factor when it comes to enticing future trainees to a firm, but the differential between the elite City practices remains minute. Where diversification will become increasingly pronounced is in the nature and structure of a law firms preferred LPC. Here, again, Linklaters has scored a first by securing Law Society validation for its bespoke LPC, to be run by the College of Law.
This battle is equally important for the education providers as it is for the firms themselves. Following the split of the City LPC consortium, the College of Law, with its bespoke course on the one hand, and BPP and its City LPC (and its new branches in Leeds, Manchester and Waterloo) on the other, have emerged as the two dominant players. Both will be watching to see how Nottingham Law School which opted out of the City LPC consortium because it did not want to run it solely out of London will respond.