TOTAL remuneration and average salaries for UK lawyers dropped last year as law firms focused on stability and keeping wage bills steady.

A survey of 988 lawyers, carried out by legal recruitment specialist Laurence Simons, found that total remuneration dropped by 5% to £139,040 last year from £146,500 in 2011.

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Average salaries fell by 7% to £103,450 from £111,500 in 2011, with bonuses commanding a higher share of annual salaries, up from 32% last year to 34%.

However, falling base pay meant the actual bonus amount rose only slightly to £35,590, up from £35,000.

While the percentage of lawyers receiving a bonus fell to 59% from 65%, Laurence Simons said the total legal bonus pot stands at £2.3 billion, a level flagged as being good for the economy as bonuses are paid out throughout the year by different firms.

Despite falling salaries, the recruiter said bonuses rose towards the end of the year and that total remuneration remained higher than it was in 2010.

It added that optimism could also be taken from the fact that the average legal department saw its headcount rise by four last year.

The firm, which spoke to in-house and private practice lawyers, also projected job growth of 6794 new hires over the next year.