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I have recruited lawyers for 10 years now and I hope that I understand law firm terminology pretty well. We work with a plethora of candidates from all different backgrounds and with different circumstances; some may be relocating to London from overseas, others moving within the UK, some are seasoned lawyers already based in the City.
Something that crops up time and time again is candidates stating that they want to work for a Magic Circle or Silver Circle firm. Frequently I will ask the candidate which Magic Circle or Silver Circle firm they want to work for and the responses I get from the question leads me to believe that the majority of lawyers out there do not have a grasp of correct terminology.
By definition the “Magic Circle” is made up of the following five firms: Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, Allen & Overy and Slaughter & May. One would assume that these highly regarded law firms, the envy of many lawyers and the benchmark for perfection would be the top five firms within the list of law firms as published by the Lawyer. One would assume incorrectly for sat at the top of said list is DLA Piper. Admittedly numbers two to four in the list are made up of four of the five Magic Circle firms but Slaughter & May ranks at number 11 in the list. But what all five have in common is the Profit per Equity Partner (PEP) which dwarfs the PEP of the other major commercial firms sat around the Magic Circle firms.
Another misconception that I frequently encounter is the use of the term “Silver Circle” law firm. Many candidates I speak with think that any large, commercial firm in the City is a Silver Circle firm. The Silver Circle is a group of corporate law firms headquartered in London, which are each outside of the Magic Circle, and have a lower turnover than the members of that group, but have an average profits per equity partner (PEP) and average revenue per lawyer (RPL) far above the UK average. So this means that the firms that comprise the “Silver Circle” currently are; Herbert Smith Freehills, Ashurst, Berwin Leighton Paisner, King & Wood Mallesons, Macfarlanes and Travers Smith.
So what’s the big deal about working for a Magic or Silver Circle firm? In truth they are not the be all and end all. That’s what is so great about the London legal market. With the introduction of US law firms and many transatlantic mergers there are loads of law firm options for lawyers to choose from that can offer excellent quality work, comparable (if not better) remuneration and the kudos of working for “one of the big hitters”.
Here at BCL Legal we place interim and permanent lawyers to the full range of law firms in the City and indeed nationally. Whilst some people get bogged down with names and terminology we’ll do our best to find the right people for the best jobs.