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Salary Survey

Posted: 16.07.2019
Download the full survey here

The figures for 2018 show a modest increase in salaries despite a rise in vacancies (the number of jobs advertised on Public Law Jobs increased by more than 50% - from 430 to 636 - from 2017 to 2018) and a tightening job market in both public sector legal and in the profession generally.

When compared with 2017, average base salaries for in-house local government lawyers increased by 3%, leaving them at an average for qualified lawyers of between £39,290 - £44,320. For more senior ranks, advertised Principal Lawyer salaries actually fell slightly, on average, by more than 2% from £49,559 - £54,150 to £47,983 - £53,069 while Heads of Legal salaries dropped by around 1% to £68,548 - £74,491.

By region, London lawyers enjoyed the highest salaries at between £43,666 - £49,090, but the differential between local government lawyers in the capital and those in the lowest-paid region - the East Midlands, where advertised salaries ranged from £35,687 to £40,791, is only around 20% while the average differential in property prices between the two regions is almost 250% (£194,000 v £475,000).

This picture is slightly skewed, however, by a notable increase in the number of ‘market supplements’ and other discretionary payments offered to boost the overall value of the packages being offered. The proportion of vacancies offering additional financial incentives, typically between £3000 and £5000 a year, rose sharply to 12% in 2018 from just 4% in 2017. These supplements were much more likely to be paid by councils in London (16%) and the South-East, where more than a quarter (26%) of advertised salaries were augmented by additional payments. By practice area, these were most common for property, education and procurement posts (at between 15% -17% of vacancies). More than 10% of roles requiring child protection, social care, litigation, housing or planning expertise also attracted a supplement of some description.

In terms of basic salaries, however, the differentials between the best and worst paid disciplines is not vast at around 20% between the best-paid (housing lawyers at £41,686 - £46,409) and the lowest, those practising education law (£36,376 - £43,357).

Pension benefit
Headline salaries are not the only yardstick, especially given near total unavailability of final or average salary pension schemes in the private sector. Estimations of the compatible value of public sector pensions vary, but research by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research in 2016* found that the immediate monetary value of a public sector pension equated to 14% of salary, compared with less than 3% in the private sector.

This suggests that, for comparison purposes, an additional 11% should be added to public sector salaries to reflect the enhanced pension provision offered by local authorities although the additional value of the certainty provided by ‘defined benefit’ public sector pensions over the ‘defined contribution’ schemes almost universally offered by the private sector is more difficult to calculate.

Despite the pension advantages, a decade of austerity and public sector pay freezes has left local authority lawyer salary packages some distance behind those offered to those with similar post-qualification experience in private practice.

According to the annual salary survey prepared each year by recruitment consultants Chadwick Nott, the typical 5+ PQE salary in London for legally-aided work such as social care or education is between £50-£60,000 while more commercial disciplines such as contracts, litigation and property pay between £60,000 and £125,000.

The difference outside the capital is less stark, but 5+PQE lawyers typically earn at least £50,000 to £60,000 plus bonuses of between 4% and 15% of salary. Unlike in the public sector, however, there are significant variations between legal disciplines and vacancies in areas of acute talent shortage are likely to pay well in excess of average salaries.

More to life than money?
Local authority roles offer more than financial rewards. Local Government Lawyer’s forthcoming Legal Department of the Future supplement, which surveyed more than 420 practising local government lawyers in Spring 2019, found that as well as pay, the other main factors in lawyers’ choice of employer are the work/life balance offered and quality of work provided.

But goodwill doesn’t pay the rent and an increasing number of local authorities are finding it tough to find good lawyers. If private practice lawyers’ pay continues to outpace the public sector, then local government’s recruitment problems look set to continue.

* Workplace Pensions and Remuneration in the Public and Private Sectors in the UK by Jonathan Cribb and Carl Emmerson, published in the National Institute Economic Review August 2016 (Vol. 237, Issue 1, pp. R30-R37)

Download the full survey here


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