Law Students are not renowned for their love of maths. But in the SRA’s consultation paper on minimum salaries there is one very important graph which illustrates a very important phenomena about lawyer salaries. Every law student should spend a few minutes studying it and whenever they hear a story about lawyer salaries they should have two words in their minds: twin peaks. [Those of a certain age can hear the haunting melodies of the David Lynch classic].
Student knowledge about lawyer salaries (and in particular) trainee salaries is dominated by league tables of trainee salaries. This concentrates on the upper echelons and inflates student expectations about salary. Even average salary data is misleading. The graph that every A-level wannabee law student and every undergraduate thinking about a career in law should know is this one, taken from the consultation paper. When one hears about average lawyer salaries, one should bear in mind that the average lies between these two peaks but, in fact, large numbers of lawyers will earn much more and large numbers much less. It’s also one of the reasons why legal aid practitioners get upset about the fat cat soubriquets. They are disproportionately located in the left hand peak, which as their careers progress moves rather slowly to the right, whilst those in larger commercial firms are in the right hand peak (or better) and move – usually – much more quickly to the right. My impression (as a generalisation) is that those in the left peak love their work more, and that provides some compensation for the lower income, but of course love doesn’t pay the bills and all that.
[Graph from SRA 2011]