(Wannabee) Law Students: One graph which signals your future

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]

5 thoughts on “(Wannabee) Law Students: One graph which signals your future

  1. This fits well with Bill Henderson’s analysis of starting attorney salaries in the US, which now fits a bimodal distribution with upper echelon salaries at $160,000 and lower at $40,000. A smaller proportion each year will attain those higher salaries. Those in the lower bands are now the contract lawyers and document reviewers.

    It may mean that law societies in the UK and law schools will have to be more transparent about the prospects of employment and the returns to the newly increased costs of a degree. We could end up with the situation described by Paul Campos in his blog http://insidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com/. The comments are vitriolic to say the least.

  2. Perhaps this comment says more about my comprehension skills than it does about the quality of this article, but I just want to point out to anyone reading the above, that the graph only shows trainee salaries.

    I was thrown off the scent initially, as the mention of the graph/consultation paper was sandwiched between sentences speaking of ‘average salary data’ and ‘average lawyer salaries…..lawyers will earn much more and large numbers much less’. It was this last part that I think particularly led to my confusion as, in the context of the earnings a lawyer can expect throughout the majority of their career, the difference between £18,000 (low end TC salary) and £30,000ish (approx. TC average), and £30,000 and £40,000 (high end TC salary), over just 2 years, does not amount to ‘much’ of anything.

  3. Oliver the former barrister, turned cross-qualifier, now resigned to the drudgery of life as a paralegal says:

    Does anyone fancy a pint?

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