The most recognised legal names in the UK, the Magic Circle law firms are the 5 leading companies who are headquartered in the United Kingdom. This list of top lawyers comprises Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter & May. All these solicitors have their main offices in London.
What are Magic Circle Firms?
The ‘Magic Circle’ of lawyers is an informal term based on a combination of turnover and profit.
The first 4 of the names above are among the 10 largest law firms in the world, while Slaughter & May are one of the magic circle lawyers by virtue of their high profit per partner, despite being a much smaller outfit than the other 4 – in fact, they have the highest profit per equity partner of the group as measured in 2012/13.
Let’s have a look at each of the Magic Circle firms individually, in order of turnover:
The history of Clifford Chance can be traced back to Anthony Brown’s company formed in 1802 – a firm that later came to be known as Coward Chance. Another relatively small firm of solicitors, Clifford Turner was formed in 1900 and both these firms did well in terms of longevity. But it was not until their merger in 1987 and the formation of Clifford Chance that a major legal presence in the UK and worldwide became known.
Clifford Chance has since expanded worldwide and was the first notable law firm from outside the USA to practise US law. Since 2005, it has opened new offices in Japan, India, Africa and Australia. This international firm of solicitors is currently one of the 10 largest legal practices in the world. It has a total of 35 offices in 25 countries across 5 continents, with around 3,400 lawyers and legal advisers.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
The company as it is now, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, is the newest of the Magic Circle law firms, having been formed in 2000 by the merger of UK lawyers Freshfields with 2 German companies. However, its roots are perhaps the oldest, and can be traced back to a London firm of lawyers in 1743. The merger was a strategic move to become a major international law firm, and the Financial Times stated that it was “probably the most significant pan-European merger to date in the restructuring of Europe’s legal services.”
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer now provides legal services to many global corporations, governments and financial institutions. In 2012/13, this multinational law firm had 28 offices in 17 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America, and employed 2,500 lawyers and legal advisers.
This roots of this major international law firm were founded in 1838 when John Linklater formed a partnership with Julian Dods. The company known as Dods & Linklater later changed its name to Linklater & Co, and a subsequent merger formed Linklaters & Paines. Following several European mergers between 1990 and 1999, the company settled on the name Linklaters. Major developments for the firm since then have included further international strategic partnerships and expansion into Japan, South Africa and Australia.
As of 2012/13, the firm has 28 offices in 19 countries and a total of 2,600 solicitors and legal advisers.
Allen & Overy
George Allen and Thomas Overy formed this City of London based law firm in 1930. Allen & Overy has been an international law firm almost from the outset, and was soon offering legal services and advice to several companies and financial institutions in Canada. Despite a difficult economic climate in recent years, Allen & Overy has been seeing sustained growth worldwide.
The company has 43 offices across 29 countries, with over 2,800 lawyers on its staff. It has bases in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North and Latin America, Africa and Australia.
Slaughter & May
This London firm of solicitors was formed in 1889, and became an international law firm in 1974 when it opened an office in Hong Kong. Slaughter & May has maintained a large focus on UK law compared to other firms in the Magic Circle. When it comes to international legal services, the company tends to support clients largely through a network of trusted partners, benefiting from the experience and expertise of the partner in that jurisdiction. Despite being the smallest law firm in the Magic Circle of solicitors, with revenues of £443 million in 2012/13, it had the highest profit per equity partner at over £1.8 million.
The firm has offices in Beijing and Brussels, as well as London and Hong Kong, with 560 lawyers and legal advisers.
While the term Magic Circle is an informal one, it does have a lot of meaning and tangible benefits. These 5 firms as a group are a magnet for much of the best legal talent, with top graduates and established lawyers from across the UK and worldwide keen to work for them. The term ‘Magic Circle law firm’ may be redefined over the coming years as fortunes change, but these 5 look set to enjoy continued success in attracting top lawyers and globally ambitious clients for many years to come.