The Magic Circle law firms are the five leading companies with headquarters in the UK. These are the country’s best-known brands in the legal sector.
Updated in 2023, this list of top lawyers comprises:
- Allen & Overy
- Clifford Chance
- Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
- Slaughter & May
All these solicitors have their main offices in London, and are a magnet for country’s top legal talent. This helps each of them to main their positions as leading UK lawyers for corporate legal matters. They are go-to companies for international law, and as being home to the best legal brains.
What is a Magic Circle Firm?
A Magic Circle law firm is a company traditionally seen as one of the leading five in the UK. It’s an informal term based on a combination of turnover and profit to group the biggest law firms at the time the phrase ‘magic circle’ was coined.
The first four of the names above are among the 10 largest law firms in the world. Slaughter & May were deemed one of the magic circle lawyers by virtue of their high profit per partner. This is despite being a smaller outfit than the other four. In fact, they have consistently achieved the highest level of profits per equity partner across the group, and had the highest revenue per lawyer as measured in 2021.
Who are the Magic Circle Law Firms?
Below is a mini-profile of each of the Magic Circle law firms, shown in order of 2021 revenue:
Clifford Chance is one of the world’s pre-eminent law firms, with significant depth and range of resources across five continents. The firm excels in capital markets, corporate law, M&A, litigation and dispute resolution, and real estate. Clifford Chance is also known for its strong commitment to technology and innovation in the legal services industry.
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 established further offices in Japan, India, Africa and Australia. This global firm of solicitors is currently one of the 10 largest legal practices in the world. It has around 35 offices in 25 countries across 5 continents.
In 2021, Clifford Chance had an estimated turnover of $2,711,508,000.
The company has around 2,585 lawyers.
Allen & Overy
Allen & Overy is a global law firm that provides legal services in business and finance law. The firm operates in over thirty countries and employs more than 5000 people, including over 500 partners. It is known for its work in banking and finance, capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, and international arbitration.
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. It 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 over 43 offices across 30+ countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North and Latin America, Africa and Australia.
In 2021, Allen and Overy had an estimated turnover of $2,672,969,000.
This Magic Circle law firm has around 2,600 lawyers.
Linklaters is renowned for its work in corporate law, especially M&A, capital markets, and banking and finance. The firm is also known for its commitment to diversity and inclusion, with various initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and racial and ethnic diversity within the firm.
John Linklater formed a partnership with Julian Dods to create this major international law firm was in 1838. The company named Dods & Linklater later changed its name to Linklater & Co, and a subsequent merger formed Linklaters & Paines. Following several European mergers from 1990 to 1999, the company settled on Linklaters as its name.
Major developments for the Linklaters law firm since then have included further international strategic partnerships and expansion into South Africa, Japan and Australia. The firm has over 28 offices in 19+ countries.
In 2021, Linklaters had an estimated turnover of $2,453,846,000.
Linklaters have around 2,405 lawyers.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is one of the oldest firms in the Magic Circle, with a history dating back over 250 years. The firm stands out for its work in corporate law and M&A, dispute resolution, and antitrust, competition and trade. Freshfields has an extensive global footprint, with offices in major cities around the world.
The company as it is today, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, is the newest of the Magic Circle law firms. It was 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. The multinational law firm has over 28 offices in 17+ countries spread across Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia.
In 2021, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer had an estimated turnover of $2,341,256,000.
They have around 2,007 lawyers.
Slaughter & May
Slaughter and May is distinct among the Magic Circle firms in that it has pursued a “best friends” strategy, developing close relationships with leading law firms in other jurisdictions rather than expanding through international mergers. This has allowed the firm to remain smaller and more selective in its work. The firm is highly regarded in corporate law, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), financial services, and dispute resolution.
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. It benefits from the experience and expertise of the partner in that jurisdiction.
Despite being the smallest law firm in the Magic Circle of solicitors, Slaughter and May London consistently tends to show the highest profit for each equity partner.
This leading law firm has offices in Beijing and Brussels, as well as London and Hong Kong.
In 2021, Slaughter and May had an estimated turnover of $758,741,000.
They have around 571 lawyers.
While the name Magic Circle is an informal one, it does still have a lot of meaning in 2023, and tangible benefits to these companies in terms of brand awareness. 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.
Each of these companies is considered to be among the most prestigious and selective in the world. They are known for lawyers with expertise spanning a wide range of legal fields. These firms are all renowned for their legal expertise, their work on high-profile and high-value matters, their commitment to training and development, and their contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the legal profession.
Careers with the Magic Circle law firms are highly sought after by graduates, offering opportunities to work on challenging legal matters with some of the brightest minds in the profession.
The term ‘Magic Circle law firm’ may be redefined over the coming years as fortunes change. However, these 5 elite companies look set to enjoy continued success in attracting top lawyers and globally ambitious clients for many years to come.