Women in Law: How To Be The Highest Paid Lawyer In Your Firm And The Skills You Need To Get There

December 13, 2018 | Georgina Varley

So, you want to be the highest paid lawyer in your firm? Here’s how to do it.

Law Gavel

According to findings published this April, the average pay gap for the top 25 law firms in the UK is 20%. This is a surprisingly low figure, bearing in mind that the UK’s top banks typically reported gaps of more than 40%. Crucially, this reporting did not include the salaries of law firm partners, who are shareholders rather than employees. As partners are senior, well-paid, and typically male, to keep their pay a secret was deemed unfair by many. It wasn’t until the UK law firms revised their figures that the full extent of the gender inequality in the sector was highlighted.

For instance, excluding partners from the report, Slaughter and May’s average gender pay gap was 14.3%. With partners included, this percentage soared to 61.8%. Similarly, Linklater published a mean gender pay gap of 23.2%, which climbed to 60.3% after partners were accounted for.

Indeed, for many female lawyers, the barriers to making partner seem insurmountable. As a result, senior women in law often choose to leave the industry. When asked about this trend, Elizabeth Anne Tursi, Global Chair and Co-founder of the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF), said to Forbes: “I think the attrition is not on the basis of sexual harassment. I think it’s the work-life integration. I think it’s about wanting a better life, wanting more balance.”

Unconscious bias also factors in, making it challenging for women to be taken seriously like their male counterparts and make headway in the sector. BAME females, in particular, find themselves exposed to this. They are eight times more likely than white men to report that they have been mistaken for custodial staff, administrative staff, or court personnel.

The truth is, women are crucial to the continued prosperity of the law industry. Research from McKinsey & Company has proven that employing female workers leads to increased profitability and, now that female solicitors in England and Wales outnumber men for the first time in history, it should be possible to make a dent in the worrying figures reported earlier this year. Solidarity between women in the law sector is key to ensuring that females remain in and enter the field. This is why conferences such as The Women in Law Summit, taking place 17th May 2019, are so important. Meeting fellow females in law increases the opportunity for mentoring and inspires young women to aim for partnership.

While the sector itself is at fault, you can still do all you can to buck the trend and achieve the same as male lawyers in your firm. Here’s how you go about it.

Step 1: Plan your path

The first step to becoming the highest paid lawyer in your firm is to research the types of jobs available to you and the salaries associated with these roles. Once you’ve found your dream job, it’s time to start developing your skills and planning your career path based on that choice. Below are three types of lawyers and the areas of law that will ensure you’re earning the most.

It is important to note that lawyers’ salaries are boosted significantly if they are employed by a Magic Circle firm. This term is used to describe the five leading UK law practises: Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters, and Slaughter and May. A newly-qualified Magic Circle lawyer can earn between £71,500 and £85,000.

Female Lawyer

Photo Credit: Robb Report

Types of lawyer:

Solicitors –

Those seeking legal advice speak to solicitors as their first point of contact. In addition to advising clients, they draft documents, review legal contracts, and conduct research. Solicitors are mainly desk-based and often work on their own. In addition, they do not typically represent their clients in court.

After completing a law degree, you will need to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and secure a training contract with a law firm. The LPC takes one year to finish and the compulsory subjects include black letter law, procedures, practical skills, and regulatory guidelines.

Average UK Salary: £42,500

Barristers –

A barrister’s main responsibility is to represent people in court – presenting the case, cross-examining witnesses, and negotiating settlements with the other side when a dispute is resolved privately outside of court. Barristers receive their instructions from solicitors at their firm and advise on specific legal issues. They are also effectively self-employed.

Following graduation, those hoping to become a barrister must take the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), this takes a year to complete. Following this, they must become an apprentice to a member of the Bar. Gaining pupillage allows them to later qualify as a barrister and work independently. A barrister is known formally as a junior, they remain one until being appointed Queen’s Counsel (QC). Most barristers never achieve this. 

Average UK Salary: £42,500

Chartered Legal Executives –

Chartered legal executives are office-based and engage in ongoing advisory and client work. Some do, however, have the same rights of audience as solicitors. These lawyers do not need to have a university degree and are trained to specialise as an expert in one or two key areas, whereas other lawyers have broader training.

The common specialisms are:

  • Corporate law
  • Family law
  • Public law
  • Employment law
  • Property law

Unlike barristers, they receive a regular monthly salary – there is less risk involved, which is perhaps why 75% of CILEx members are female. Typically, training for the role involves gaining the CILEx Level 3 Certificate, the CILEx Level 3 Diploma, and the CILEx Level 6 Diploma.

Average UK Salary: £37,500


Research by management consulting company Hudson highlights the law sectors in the UK where you can earn the most. Below are the average pay ranges for lawyers with 1 year’s PQE (Post-Qualified Experience).

  • Infrastructure Services – £57,855 - £73,080
  • Asset Management – £52,780 - £76,125
  • Investment Banking – £52,780 - £76,125
  • Power and Utilities – £52,780 - £65,975
  • Life Sciences – £50,750 - £65,975
  • IT & Media – £50,750 - £62,930

Female Judge

Photo Credit: Lawyers Weekly

Step 2: Develop the Skills

Now that you know where you’re heading, it’s time to start climbing the ladder. The best way to do this is through hard work and skill development. But what skills and qualities are required to make you a successful solicitor, barrister, or chartered legal executive? Embracing the below areas will set you on the path to your dream job.

Business, Marketing, and Networking Skills:

You may not associate financial acumen with being a lawyer. However, the legal workers who earn the most are often the ones with the best marketing, business, and networking skills.

Law is a service and if clients are billed incorrectly, the impact on your employer could be significant. It is extremely important that you are able to explain your hourly rates and additional charges, in addition to understanding tax principles, working with statistics, balancing a ledger, and calculating profit margins. Every client case involves money, and if you are a lawyer who studied an Arts degree, you’ll need to learn or revisit a handful of key business skills to keep up with your colleagues. If you’re based in Scotland, why not attend the CCPD Business Skills for Lawyers seminar in April 2019 to help with this?

In the 21st century, having an online presence is crucial when attracting clients. Reputation management can be achieved by marketing yourself and being visible on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Yelp in addition to establishing your own website. This allows previous clients to review you publicly and stay in contact, helping to create future business opportunities. Socialising with these people further establishes them as leads. Make sure you attend networking events in your sector and follow up on all meaningful interactions. If you talked about a coffee date, make it happen. Don’t get yourself a reputation for empty promises.

Once you’ve mastered the above skill-sets, the clients will come flooding in. Many who are brilliant at attracting business opportunities go on to run their own law firms, achieving the big bucks at the very top.

Lawyers Shaking Hands

Continuous Learning:

If you work in the legal sector, your education never really ends. The only way that you’ll become the highest paid lawyer in your firm is by building upon what you studied at university and immersing yourself in your specialisms.

Reading news articles about changes to British law from sources like The Law Society Gazette, as well as blog posts from websites like this one, will help you become more commercially aware – understanding the wider social, political, and economic issues that could affect the businesses you’re working for. You’ll also get kudos from senior colleagues when you have opinions on topical issues. For instance, when the new minimum wage for pupil barristers comes up in conversation, you’ll be one step ahead of the rest of your junior colleagues.

You should also consider joining industry-specific forums, attending workshops, and seminars. Law-related podcasts like Thinking Like A Lawyer or TV shows like Making A Murderer will also help you learn more about legal processes. Arguably, the best way to enhance your knowledge has to be by reading books on law. Broaden your understanding of the sector and try one of these…

Langford describes eleven cases that reveal what goes on in criminal and family courts. She tells compelling stories of domestic abuse, burglary, sexual indiscretion, and children caught up in the law. The Financial Times called it “powerful, moving… captivating.”

Female lawyers who are raising a family will be interested in this one. Impellizzeri covers both the practical and ethical considerations for lawyers taking a break in service for a variety of reasons, including temporary leaves of absence, taking care of family members, changing careers, disciplinary actions, and retirement.

This book examines the causes of dissatisfaction among lawyers, and then charts possible paths to happier and more fulfilling careers. Ignoring a one-size-fits-all approach, it shows how maximising your chances of achieving happiness depends on your personality, values, strengths, and interests.

If you really want to invest in your career, purchasing MacCarthy’s bible on cross-examination is a must – many believe that it is the best book ever written on the process. It shows lawyers how to weave an effective story during a trial. Filled with illustrative cross-examinations from actual cases, this book is a dream for all trial lawyers looking to improve their technique.

Partners become partners for a reason – dedication to the cause – so start as you mean to go on and read all that you can about British law.

Books for Lawyers

Verbal and Written Communication: 

The ability to communicate effectively is key to being a successful lawyer and, if you’re a pupil barrister, then improving your public speaking prowess is especially important. Putting your point across succinctly, without a trace of aggression or nervousness, is a tricky skill to master. However, there are numerous ways to prepare for court trails.

In addition to reading Terence MacCarthy’s book on cross-examination (as mentioned above), you could join a debate team or enter a moot court competition. Another good way to improve upon your communication skills is to try to describe a complicated legal concept to a person who knows very little about the subject. Similarly, listening is key to being a great communicator – so why not turn this idea on its head and have that person explain something to you and see if you can repeat it back to them?

Here’s a few top tips to keep in mind while presenting in court:

  • Pause for emphasis and don’t be scared of the silence. Filling gaps with nonsense thoughts and speaking for the sake of it conveys uneasiness. Use these breathers to refocus your ideas.
  • Project your voice, monitor your pitch and enunciate. It is also worth noting that ending declarative sentences with a higher-pitched voice is a no-go. Doing so makes you sound like you’re asking questions instead of stating facts, resulting in you appearing less self-assured.
  • Remove non-words from your vocabulary such as “ahh”,“errr”, and “umm”, as well as phrases like “you know”, “seriously”, or “at the end of the day”.

Female Lawyer Public Speaking

Your written ability is equally as important. One of the drawbacks of being a lawyer is that you have to handle a huge amount of paperwork. When preparing to present in court, you will need to absorb a lot of information in a short time, analyse this data, and relay it in a manner which is easy to understand. This is why many English and History graduates choose to take a law conversion course after their Bachelor's degree – they already know how to do this.

Here’s a few top tips to keep in mind while drafting letters and legal documents:

  • Watch out for your tone  these documents are formal and your voice should reflect that.
  • It is a good idea to keep and maintain a glossary of legal terms that you can use when writing up your cases. You'll thank yourself later! 
  • Make sure to reread your work with fresh eyes. If you have enough time, try to look over your writing the next day before sharing it with your colleagues or clients. In the work environment of a lawyer, the slightest spelling mistake can influence the way others perceive you. 

The fates of many rest in the capable hands of those who work in law. Do you know of any other skills needed to become one the highest paid people in this crucial sector? Let us know!