The Magic Circle law firms are the 5 leading companies who are headquartered in the UK, and the country’s best-known brands in the legal sector. Updated in 2020, 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, 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, as 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 4 of the names above are among the 10 largest law firms in the world, while Slaughter & May were deemed 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 2017.
Who are the Magic Circle Law Firms?
Below is a mini-profile of each of the Magic Circle law firms, shown in order of 2018/19 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 around 35 offices in 25 countries across 5 continents.
In 2018/19, Clifford Chance had an estimated turnover of £1,693M.
The company have around 6,616 employees including lawyers, partners and legal advisers as of mid 2020.
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 Linklaters law firm since then have included further international strategic partnerships and expansion into Japan, South Africa and Australia. The firm has over 28 offices in 19+ countries.
In 2018/19, Linklaters had an estimated turnover of £1,629M.
They have around 6,489 employees including lawyers, partners and legal advisers as of mid-2020.
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 over 43 offices across 29+ countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North and Latin America, Africa and Australia.
In 2018/19, Allen and Overy had an estimated turnover of £1,627M.
They have around 6,690 employees including lawyers, partners and legal advisers as of mid 2020.
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. The multinational law firm has over 28 offices in 17+ countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America.
In 2018/19, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer had an estimated turnover of £1,472M.
They have around 5,620 employees including lawyers, partners and legal advisers as of mid-2020.
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, Slaughter and May London consistently tends to show the highest profit per equity partner at over £1.8 million, and firm has offices in Beijing and Brussels, as well as London and Hong Kong.
In 2018/19, Slaughter and May had an estimated turnover of £501.3M.
They have around 1,444 employees including lawyers, partners and legal advisers as of mid 2020.
While the term Magic Circle is an informal one, it does still have a lot of meaning in 2020, 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.
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.