What type of law pays the most?
in Careers Advice, Legal Profession, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience

What type of law pays the most?

Rule of Thumb for Pay

A simple rule of thumb is that corporate and commercial law fields pay well, personal service law fields pay not so well. Corporate and commercial solicitors can be earning £100k and upwards, personal service law fields (aka high street solicitors) earn up to around £50k in most cases. Local authority lawyers fall into the latter category. In house company solicitors usually fall into the same category as corporate and commercial lawyers, although there can be a bit crossover.

There are lots of different areas of law and lots of different types of employers. Some pay well, others not so well.

Differing Calculations

The method of working out which areas of law pay the most depends on what you are looking at; whether you are considering the hourly rate that the fee earner undertaking that work is being charged out at, or whether you are referring to the actual income of the solicitor in question. These two things are completely different.

Solicitor in Chester – £300 per hour but low paid – how?

For example, we used a litigation solicitor some time ago in Chester whose charge out rate was £300 per hour. Yet his income for the year was probably less than £40,000. This is because he would not have had sufficient billable hours to generate a significant amount of income.

However if he was working for a large law firm with a huge case load requiring him to put in 12 hour days just to get through it, then it’s a very good chance he would be able to complete his billable hours every day of the week and generate significant sums of money. If you think about it, £250 per billable hour results in at least £1500 per day, assuming there are six billable hours in a typical lawyer’s day.

Over a week that could result in £5250 being billed, which means over a year that lawyer could comfortably be billing £250,000.

But the areas of law that cost the most are usually any that are undertaken by large London law firms and billed out to their corporate clients at a significantly eye-watering hourly rate. However, as in my example of the solicitor in Chester, it does not necessarily follow that all solicitors undertaking that area of law charge out at such a high rate, and things can vary quite dramatically.

Interim Lawyers Locum Platform and Small Company Assistance

The Interim Lawyer locum platform regularly gets requests from small companies who need assistance from a solicitor for a specific project, usually linked to a need for a lawyer to view contracts, or to deal with a case in the courts for them. If those particular companies go through a solicitors firm then the hourly rate they will be paying would probably be around the same rate we were being billed by our solicitor in Chester, which is about £250 per hour as a minimum.

If however they used a locum solicitor or interim solicitor to undertake the work then it is likely they would probably be looking at a rate of about £50-60 per hour. The cost savings are considerable and as an aside if you are a small business reading this article, you may want to have a look at the Interim Lawyers website to see how we can help you.

Large London Firms – £250 per hour and upwards

The key areas of law that large London practices undertake and charge considerable amounts of money for (usually hourly rates will start at £250 and head rapidly upwards depending on the complexity of the matter and the seniority of the lawyer in question). However, hourly rates of £250 to £500 an hour for a lot of work being undertaken by London law firms is not uncommon. These types of law will be corporate commercial, mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance, banking, shipping law, aviation law, intellectual property, commercial property, commercial litigation and all similar types of law being undertaken for corporations and large companies.

Similarly however, a law firm that has strong links to high net worth individuals (HNWs) will also charge out at very high levels, and a company specialising in servicing high net worth individuals from Russia say will have similar hourly charges to the large London practices. So you can find that even undertaking property work or private client work (or even family work) for one of these companies can result in significant hourly rates being charged.

What is the most expensive area of law for hourly rates and pays the most?

We think that the most expensive area of law is corporate finance and banking, followed up very closely by taxation. Why? They are complex and require high levels of expertise. Also because these are arguably the most boring areas of law and it takes a lot to get people to go into the fields and stay in them simply due to the tediousness of dealing with such uninspiring areas of law. I once provided career coaching to a £330k per annum corporate finance solicitor who was bored and wanted to move into conveyancing on the high street. He soon changed his mind when faced with the reality of being paid £40k per year….

I want to be a human rights lawyer – how much do they get paid?

If you are a fresh faced enthusiastic law graduate who no doubt will still have being a top human rights lawyer on their mind, think again. Firstly human rights lawyers rarely exist in practice, and secondly if they do exist, chances are they don’t get paid a lot of money and you will struggle to survive. Whilst this might be very worthy, it’s not exactly a very stable or potential career to go into. There is another article on this on the Ten Percent website, simply search ‘human rights’ and it will pop up or click here – it may be a bit depressing, but it is honest..

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.ten-percent.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk