A new associate pay war, Germany cutbacks and banks braced for Brexit - the best of Legal Week this week

UK associates have always been able to make more money by joining a US firm’s London office, but the new £105,000 benchmark for newly qualified (NQ) lawyers at White & Case and Shearman & Sterling raises fresh questions about how UK firms will be able to compete for top talent.

Announced just ahead of the leading UK firms confirming their own 2017 associate salary rates, the new NQ rate is a full 20% higher in base salary alone than what is on offer at most UK counterparts. Banding systems and combined pay and bonuses mean rates across the magic circle are harder to compare than at most US firms, but Clifford Chance, for example, last year pushed NQ rates up to £85,000 including bonus.

Given those after the really big money can already head to the likes of Latham & Watkins or Kirkland & Ellis for the full $180,000 (£140,000) Wall Street rate, adding White & Case and Shearman to the mix means UK firms will have some tough decisions to make about whether or not they join the latest salary war.

Elsewhere, it emerged last week that Freshfields is set to reduce partner count in Germany by up to 20% by 2020. With partner numbers already down by around 20% since late 2015, this will equate to a reduction in overall partnership size of around 40% over five years, if it goes ahead.

News of Freshfields’ plans came days after Legal Week reported that Allen & Overy had decided against making changes to its lockstep that would have capped earnings for partners in Germany at a lower level.

Other highlights on Legal Week during the past week: