Law specialisms: where should lawyers focus their talents to secure top salaries?

Lawyers rarely choose a specialism with an informed view of what the impact on their future earnings could be. We've looked into the best paying law specialisms so you don't have to.

Starting a career in law - UK Associate Salaries

Leveraged & acquisition finance90,000
Investment funds82,000
Derivatives and structured finance72,000
Compliance and regulatory70,000
Intellectual property58,000
Commercial property58,000
Employment & pensions55,000
Tax & trusts50,000
Private client45,000

Based on 510 UK Associates - All numbers are Median Salaries

There's a huge spread in data, and with such a demanding job, long hours and years of studying, it is surprising to see as much as a 42% gap between Leveraged finance and Private client work. If aiming for best paying jobs, aim to work with companies rather than individuals as clients, as margins are by far more attractive. Staying close to the financial industry guarantees higher salaries, with specialisms such as Leveraged finance and Structured finance all holding the top spots.

Entry-level pay in decline

Based on 510 UK Associates entries

Young lawyers' salaries have been under pressure especially in finance-related specialisms as banks have tightened their cost base and their own staff costs, sending a ripple through their law contractors' pay. Base salary has dropped by nearly 40% over recent years, leaving junior lawyers 30,000 pounds worse off.

Law firms or In-house legal jobs: what is the gap during the career?

Years of ExperienceLaw Firms SalaryIn-house
Junior (1-4)38,00030,000
Mid-career (5-9)57,00054,000
Experienced (10-14)90,00067,000
Late Career (15+)97,00070,000

Based on 1,489 entries from UK Law Firms and in-house  lawyers

Working directly for a law firm is more attractive in financial terms, but it requires higher level qualifications throughout a legal professional's career. Law firms are clearly intent on rewarding qualifications and gruelling hours.

In-House Sectors: Entry level pay

SectorsMedian Salary
Banking & Financial Services50,000
Consulting & Outsourcing30,000
Charity & Not For Profit26,000

Based on 155 UK Junior Managers entries

If you are an in-house lawyer, then working in the finance sector will yield the best salary. However, lifestyle is key: a trading floor lawyer is likely to be under extreme pressure to deliver time-sensitive documents, and hold the key to enabling or killing key trades - not everyone would agree to that working environment even for a top salary.

While choosing to study Law is a long and demanding journey, it is rewarding when it comes to picking a career and a working environment. If it's high pay you are looking for, then aim for legal counsel positions at investment banks, or finance-related departments within a law firm. Beyond pay though, working as legal counsel is an effective way to switch sectors and infiltrate a new industry or firm as other opportunities beyond purely law-related jobs are bound to open up. A stepping-stone to a different career or a vocation, being a lawyer is a bow with many strings.


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