‘Magic Circle’ Firms Explained

‘Magic Circle’ Firms Explained

What is a magic circle firm?
The term ‘magic circle’ is used to describe the top 5 commercial law firms in the United Kingdom. They are regarded ‘prestigious’ and ‘elite’, the very best of the best. These are some of the reasons why so many law students are attracted to magic circle firms. Not to mention the challenging work, promise of a high salary and the status that comes with working at one of the best firms in the country.

Who is in the magic circle?
Unsurprisingly, all five Law firms are based in London. The very exclusive circle comprises of Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May. These law firms are highly competitive and the make-up of the ‘magic circle’ has not changed for decades.

Why are these firms in the magic circle?
The profit of the law firm is looked at in order to establish membership of the magic circle. Even though Slaughter & May had significantly smaller profits than others in the magic circle, they had the most profit per equity partner of any UK law firm in 2011-12. Additionally in 2010, four magic circle firms were among the top ten law firms in the world, when measured by revenue.

Biography of each firm:

Allen & Overy

They are well known for their area of financial expertise, however they have 20 different practices across eleven sectors. Such as, real estate, private equity, energy, telecommunications, media and technology to name a few. They strive to always stay one step ahead of other firms. Allen & Overy have an 83-year history, much of which has been spent offering an international service, as well as a domestic one. A massive 60 per cent of their revenue comes from international work. They have an impressive list of clients, which include banks such as Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and Barclays. Today Allen & Overy has 525 partners and 5,000 employees in 32 countries. They have a starting trainee salary of £40,000.

Clifford Chance

This Law firm is well known for exceeding clients expectations and are always concentrating on succeeding. The area they are well known for is financial expertise. Additionally they have six different practices, across 11 sectors. Some of these include insurance, banks, consumer goods and retail. Clifford Chance has a history of UK legal service that dates back to the 1800s. However, they did not start offering an international service until 2000. They are committed to moving with the times and staying ahead of the game. They are known to be innovative; two years ago they opened an office in South Korea and they are the first magic circle firm to do so. Recently their Hong Kong office advised on entering into the China’s market. Additionally they are the first magic circle firm to introduce ‘CV blind’. This is where; in the last stages of the interview process, the interviewers are not given any information on what school the candidate attended. They have done this in the hope it will stop Oxbridge recruitment bias. Clifford chance now has 36 offices in 26 countries and 3,300 lawyers. They have a starting trainee salary of £40,000.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

They are well known for their long-lasting relationships with clients and their ability to always work as a team. They have fifteen different practices across fourteen sectors. Media, Government, health, retail and real estate are to name a few. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, has more than 250 years experience in the field, which has lead them to become the massive success they are today. They started their international work in 1840, with an office in Germany. This prompted their 3-way merge with two German firms in 2000, which lead to the name Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. Their first ever client was the Bank of England, but more recently the firm was the official legal services provider to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. They have 29 offices around the world and employ 2,600 lawyers. Trainee salary starts at £40,500.


They are passionate about becoming the worlds leading law firm and specialise in financial expertise. Healthcare, pensions, tax and capital markets are a few of the areas. Furthermore they offer more practice areas than any other magic circle firm. They have 25 practices, across 15 sectors. Linklaters have a history going back to 1838, when John Linklater went into partnership with Julian Dods. More recently, they have advised the News Corporation’s Independent Management and Standards Committee following the phone hacking scandal. Linklaters currently employs around 2,600 lawyers and has 29 offices across 20 countries. They have a starting salary a little higher than the other magic circle firms, at £40,000.

Slaughter and May

This firm is also well known, for their attention to detail and the high standard service they give to every client. They practice in areas of sport, tax, information technology and global investigations. Even though they are the smallest out of all the magic circle firms, it is argued they are the most prestigious. Slaughter and May do have an international presence, however it is a lot smaller than the other magic circle firms. They rely on a network of ‘best friends’, which consist of local law firms in other countries. Slaughter and May were founded in 1889 and opened their first international office in Hong Kong in 1974. They advised Cadbury when they sold the business to the American brand Kraft Food Inc. Additionally they have 117 partners and over 1,100 employees worldwide. Additionally they are representing 24 nationalities and 61 different universities. They have a starting trainee salary of £38,000.

With this said, there are still many other law firms in the UK that offer law students a good salary and challenging, but exciting work. Among those are Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright, Clyde & Co, Ashurst and Olswang. They offer equivalent expertise to those in the magic circle. Additionally it is worth noting some have wider practices and sectors apart from finance and corporate law.

[Editor’s Notes: The figures included are accurate as of July 2015]
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