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Everything you need to know about Magic Circle Law firms

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Magic Circle law firms are a group of highly prestigious, international corporate focused law firms headquartered in London. They’re mainly admired for their high training quality, competitive salary packages and cutting-edge work. Grouped together due to their extensive networks, high profitability, and focus on corporate work across the private equity, banking and M&A sectors, it’s no surprise that many legal professionals aspire to work for them.

Whether you’re a Paralegal or a Solicitor, you’ve likely heard of the Magic Circle firms.

But what distinguishes them from other law firms? What’s the salary and what are the benefits of working for a Magic Circle firm? And how do you get your foot in the door of one of these prestigious firms? 

At IDEX Consulting we’ve helped thousands of legal professionals secure roles in these highly sought after firms, so if you’re exploring a new opportunity here’s what you should know. If you’re working in legal and aspire to work at a Magic Circle firm, reach out to one of our legal specialists who can offer insight on the market, available opportunities and provide specialist career advice.

What are the five Magic Circle Law Firms? 

There are five law firms in the UK that are thought to be elite - these are:

  • Allen & Overy

  • Clifford Chance

  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

  • Linklaters

  • Slaughter and May

What sets Magic Circle firms apart from other law firms? 

There are several factors that distinguish Magic Circle firms from other legal firms, including: 

  • Consistent and guaranteed high earnings for Lawyers and Partners

  • Top tier client work

  • Extensive international client base

  • Excellent training with large cohorts and well defined career pathways

  • Reduced staff turn over

Where did the term ‘Magic Circle’ come from? 

The Magic Circle firms originated from the ‘Club of Nine’ in the late 1990s. The Club of Nine included Lovells, Herbert Smith, Norton Rose and Stephenson Harwood. However, the Club of Nine was disbanded in 2000. 

According to Henry Raine, former Investment Banker and Corporate Partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, the term ‘Magic Circle' was, “coined by a legal magazine and referred to firms which were very strong in corporate or international work”. (The Law Society Gazette: It’s a kind of magic)

How much can you earn in a Magic Circle law firm? 

Salaries depend on how many years post qualified experience you have. For example, a newly qualified solicitor can earn a base salary of around £100,000, experienced solicitors can earn £180,000 while senior associates can receive over £250,000. For an equity partners the average is approximately £1.5 million.

Find out more in our 2024 Legal Salary, benefits and skills guide.

What skills do Magic Circle firms look for? 

Whether you’ve always aspired to become the next Jessica Pearson or Harvey Specter, or you’ve always wanted to secure a role in one of the most prestigious firms in the world, you’ll need to strengthen the following skills:

  • A strong academic background

  • Commercial knowledge and awareness, not just about law but business in general

  • Very good legal knowledge

  • Ability to craft compelling and precise corporate legal arguments

  • Strong team working and communication skills 

  • A passion and motivation to succeed, with an ambitious mindset

  • Excellent attention to detail 

  • Ability to juggle and manage multiple cases

  • Strong time management skills

What are the differences between the top 5 firms?

Below we’ve highlighted a few aspects of each firm below.

Allen & Overy – An international law firm, known for their strong presence in China and strong geographical and banking strengths. Specialist law areas include corporate banking, international capital markets, dispute resolution, litigation, employment, tax and real estate. Trainees have prided Allen & Overy on their sociable and modern culture, with top tier work and good benefits.

Clifford Chance – Transactional work is key to Clifford Chance with a strong focus on capital markets, asset finance and banking. The firm has one of the world’s largest international tax groups and is regarded as having a high calibre of talent. People have rated the firm for its supportive and approachable leaders.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – Freshfields is known for high profile client cases and a very interesting broad range of assignments, working across a large range of industries including; financial services, automotive, industrials, chemicals, insurance, technology and media and entertainment.

Linklaters – This is a transaction heavy firm with the majority of trainees working in capital markets, corporate, banking. One of the world’s leading firms specialising in banking and finance, M&A, employee benefits and capital markets. Professionals have complimented the firm on their focus on innovation, efficiency and agility, as well as their caring culture and high-quality training.

Slaughter and May – Slaughter and May have a global reputation for providing top legal services across infrastructure and engineering, risk, disputes and banking and finance, working with more FTSE 100 and 250 clients than any other law firm. Reviews include an extremely string focus on innovative practices and ‘thinking outside the box’, keen to find professionals who are able to come up with new solutions.

Speak to an IDEX Legal recruitment expert

If you’re working in legal and aspire to work at a Magic Circle firm, reach out to one of our legal specialists who can offer insight on the market, available opportunities and provide specialist career advice.