Every major country has one; the Seven Sisters of Canada, the Big Six from Australia and the White Shoe or Charmed Circle firms of New York. The Magic Circle are firms at the pinnacle of the legal game and have earned the prestige as well as that air of mystery that comes along with the title.

In the United Kingdom this group of London based commercial firms are referred to as the “Magic Circle”. Together they form part of an elite group whose names are world-renowned and are leaders in their specialities, taking on the most notable and industry influencing deals, cases and clients. We will be taking a brief look at each firm’s history, their most notable deals, and what opportunities they have to offer to the aspiring lawyer.

The firms

Founded in 1930, the firm has grown to include 46 offices worldwide in 36 countries. In their 84 years the firm has grown substantially, basing themselves in the last 15 years in major financial centres throughout the globe, focusing their strengths on the banking and corporate sectors. Core practice areas include: corporate, banking, international capital markets, also extending to litigation & dispute resolution, employment & benefits, tax, real estate. Their most recent work includes advising on the oil refinery project in Vietnam (Nghi Son); the joint venture between H.C. Starck and Vietnam’s largest private sector company, Masan Group; representing Novartis in its successful patent battle with MedImmune over Novartis’s drug Lucentis.

Alongside their open days, winter and summer vacation schemes the firm also have A&O First and Think! Challenge. The former is for those pursuing a career in commercial law and is a work experience programme and support network designed exclusively for first-year students in the UK; providing work experience, access to webinars, an online forum and a trainee buddy.  The latter is a business challenge which takes place on campus throughout October and November. The challenge puts you in the shoes of a commercial lawyer, representing your client. Think! is aimed at undergraduates of any year group and degree discipline. It is intended to help you to develop key skills including commercial awareness, team working, problem solving and communication.


Through the merger of two London Firms, Coward Chance and Clifford Turner which were established in 1802 and 1900 respectively, Clifford Chance was formed.

Clifford Chance won the contract in the development of Battersea Power Station, in conjunction with the extension of the Northern line. They also acted for Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels on the acquisition of 1-5 Grosvenor Place. The firm was the lead advisor to Citigroup on the disposal of its interests in the EMI Group in 2011. EMI’s recorded music business was sold to Universal Music, owned by Vivendi, for £1.2 billion. Whilst, EMI’s music publishing business is being sold to an investor group, including Sony Corporation of America and Mubadala Development Corporation, for $2.2 billion.

CC have been featured in the recent “Blind CV” development and are the only magic circle firm that outrightly participates and applies this to their recruitment process.This major development in their recruitment process has made them a front runner out of top firms responding for greater equality and industry access. CC hold an annual competition known as Intelligent Aid, an alternative application process, where you answer a topical question in 500 words and the top 20 finalists (after presenting at Clifford Chance’s office) will win a place on a vacation scheme. Non-Law Insight Scheme provides an opportune experience to gain an introduction into the industry and legal practice. As a result of their membership with PRIME, CC offers a week work experience to school-age students (between Years 11-13 in England and Wales; s4-6 in Scotland; Year 5 and Sixth form in NI) from less privileged backgrounds.


For more on Blind CV’s please see the article link below.


The firm can be traced as far back as 1743, where its founding member Samuel Dodd worked as the solicitor for the Bank of England. The firm as it stands, in name, today was created in 2000 when Freshfields mergered with the German and German-Austrian firms Deringer Tessin Herrmann & Sedemund and Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Lober, respectively.

Freshfields main practice areas are antitrust, competition and trade, corporate, disputes, employment pensions and benefits, finance, intellectual property and information technology, real estate and tax. In November 2014 Freshfields worked on a number of deals one of which was advising Jimmy Choo on its IPO, involving group reorganisation and refinancing and the PLC’s premium listing on the London Stock Exchange. They also advised Columbus International Inc. and its shareholders on the sale of Columbus to Cable & Wireless Communications plc, as well as Blackstone and TPG on the acquisition of Kensington Group (the speciality UK residential mortgage lender) from Investec plc.

The firm offers law and non-law workshops, first-year focus programmes (one-day events) as well as three 3-week long summer vacation scheme opportunities.


Linklaters was established in 1838 and in 2013 celebrated 175 years. With its origins firmly based in London, through the 1960’s -90’s expanded its network through Europe and Asia, and in recent years opened offices in the Middle East.

The core practise areas are corporate/M&A, banking & finance and capital markets, project finance, commercial, real estate, investment management, litigation and arbitration, TMT, IP and Tax. Their recent work includes helping BP on its $9 billion joint venture with Reliance, the latter who is the largest investor of capital into India; News Corporation’s Management and Standards Committee, in relation to its handling of the News of the World phone hacking case, police payments investigation and all other connected issues.

Linklaters provides a matching tool on their career page to help find which scheme is appropriate for you and they offer the traditional winter and summer vacation schemes. Linklaters Pathfinder is a two-day insight programme for 1st year students of any degree in the UK or Ireland.

In 2014, The Times and Opportunity Now awarded the firm as one of the Top 50 Employers for Women and achieved the National Equality Standard. Also part of the PRIME work scheme and provide other programmes in support of social mobility including Pure Potential, Linklater Realising Potential to name a few. Also in 2014, were awarded the “Big Tick” in the Responsible Business Awards 2014, for the latter programme.


The firm was founded in January 1889 by two solicitors; William Slaughter and William May, who met while training together. Through their history and as they grew they began representing larger, international and prestigious clients such as British Airways, Burberry, Aviva, ITV, Unilever and Rolls Royce. Over the last 40 years they have grown their international firm base, with a strong network in Asia. They are firmly an international law firm and their clients, naturally, reflect this.

Their core practice areas are Mergers and Acquisitions, Financing, Corporate and Commercial. Slaughter and May advised ITV on the sale of ITV Cymru Wales’ headquarters to Bellway Homes for £14.5 million. The 7.7 hectare site was sold with outline planning permission for a residential development of up to 243 new homes. ITV Cymru Wales has moved its operations to new facilities in Cardiff Bay. They also advised Unilever PLC on the purchase, for £715 million, of the rights left in family trusts by William Hesketh Lever.

Slaughter and May provide the typical opportunities common to law firm including others within the Magic Circle. They have a two-day winter workshop, spring and summer vacation schemes and also have an open day for first year law students.


Some advice

All the Magic Circle firms have LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts and most have dedicated days of the week where you can gain a view into a work day or can ask questions directly to trainees, associates and even their recruitment team; including recruiter Wednesday and trainee Tuesday.If you have a Twitter account or for those sitting on the fence, it is an amazing source of business, financial, political and legal news and many encourage using it for professional purposes or to have a separate professional account. It enables you to access a particular kind of information which will improve that all important commercial awareness. All the firms have applications open for most of their opportunities and graduate recruitment. All of which can be found on their graduate sites (usually under their Careers tab) and the firms encourage applicants to submit their applications as early as possible.The Magic Circle is a group firms of similar outward characteristics yet on closer examination have their own individual style and culture. The way to break in is to understand who they are, what they look for specifically from candidates, and whether these match with what you are looking for in a law firm and for your future career in law.