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What is working at a Magic Circle law firm like in 2022?

by Charles Nwabueze
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Reading Time: 5 min

Who’s got the magic? Magic Circle firms do.

The Magic Circle Solicitor firms are considered to be a category of some of the most prestigious law firms in the legal world. They are like the Big 4 of the accounting world, or like the MBB in the consulting world. What we are saying is that they are well-known and quite good at what they do.

The term, magic circle is an informal name used to describe the five most prestigious London-based multinational law firms; these firms generally outperform the rest of the London law firms in profitability. All Magic Circle Law firms specialize in corporate law, are headquartered in the UK and include:

  • Allen & Overy, 
  • Clifford Chance,
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, 
  • Linklaters and 
  • Slaughter and May. 

The term originated in the 1990s and was coined by legal reporters in the wake of the break-up of its predecessor, the Club of Nine, to describe the leading law firms in the City. The club of nine was a group of law firms that comprised Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith Freehills, Linklaters, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright, Slaughter and May and Stephenson Harwood. 

However, is life a bed of roses in this category of firms? What does working here entail for a trainee? Read on to find out.


Magic Circle firms are known for their long working hours. Clifford Chance’s start and finish times were pegged at 9:06 am and 9:09 pm; Linklaters fared slightly better at 9:01 am and 9:09 pm; Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer had 9:09 am and 9:01 pm; Allen & Overy trainees came in at 9:04 am and left at 8:55 pm, and Slaughter and May had a 9:12 am start and 8:16 pm finish. From this data, we can safely conclude that hours at Magic Circle firms can be long, especially if the trainee/associate is placed in a busy team.

While working at magic circle firms you may not always finish as late as your counterparts at US firms, the working hours are however quite close. For some nights you might have to cancel your plans to stay back and complete your work. Part of your workload will be reviewing documents, a common task for trainees (along with legal research, communicating with clients and tracking their responses, and preparation of court bundles). While this may seem mundane to you, magic circle firms will expect you to do them well because your excellence at them will usually lead to opportunities to do more interesting tasks and play a more significant role in their firms. 


For law firms headquartered in the UK, Magic Circle firms enjoy the highest revenues, and as a result, the revenues trickle down to the trainees. The pay at magic circle firms looks like this: 

Firm First-year Salary Second-year salary  Newly qualified salary
Clifford Chance £50,000 £55,000 £125,000
Freshfields £50,000 £55,000 £125,000
Linklaters £50,000 £55,000 £115,000
Allen & Overy £50,000 £55,000 £107,500
Slaughter and May £50,000 £55,000 £107,500


Training & Development 

While the member firms are different, it is generally accepted that there is a clear sense of hierarchy and demanding professional requirements for those seeking a training contract with any of the magic circle firms. For those able to keep pace with these requirements, the payoff comes in the form of cutting-edge working environments and an opportunity to work on some of the industry’s biggest and most important cases.

Magic circle firms take the training and development of trainees and newly qualified lawyers quite seriously; they have been investing in this aspect of associate development for decades. As evidence of their excellent training, in a survey carried out by Legal Cheek, three of the magic circle firms (Linklaters, Slaughter and May and Clifford Chance) were recognized as some of the best firms for the training of trainees in 2022.

A lot of the member firms adopt a training that is quite hands-on and comprehensive with great emphasis on additional training that includes lectures, workshops and presentations. To also ensure that they are going in the right direction, use regular feedback and advice from partners and lots of support is made available.

Quality of Work

Considering that magic circle firms are known for acting for multinational corporations, the access to first-rate work for their trainees is high. Trainees are encouraged to get involved in all aspects of transactions to hasten their growth. The magic circle firms use the tool of international secondment opportunities to help their trainees access quality work. Some of their trainees usually find themselves in destinations like Sao Paulo, Dubai, Australia, Tokyo and Hong Kong. For those who prefer to stay in the UK, they could be posted to top clients like Goldman Sachs, and Barclays, charities like Liberty and The Howard League for Penal Reform. 

Furthermore, while it is normally expected for trainees to carry out tasks that appear mundane, it seems that mundane tasks at magic circle firms are kept to the minimum or at least there’s an attempt. This has been made so by the investment of resources into first-class technology, which can take on thankless tasks, allowing trainees to engage in fruitful work. Thus, if you find yourself working in a magic circle firm you may find that you could be engaging in drafting and developing transactional skills. You might even be given enough responsibility that you are allowed – with the guidance of associates – to run deals.

Road to Partnership 

Using Origin Legal’s Partner Survey carried out in 2016 which tracked solicitors’ qualification dates versus when they became partners at magic circle firms, we can offer some pointers to those who want to become partners at magic circle firms. In 2016, 40 partners were announced at magic circle firms, and out of that figure, 60% of the Partners were in Corporate Finance/Banking. This means that if you want to be made a partner, you’re better off qualifying in the corporate finance/banking teams of the magic circle firm. If this is not an area of interest you may need to consider if you want to be a partner at a magic circle firm.

From the data, it was also seen that 97.5% of solicitors that made Partners were less than 12 years PQE (post-qualified experience). 60% of lawyers making Partner at Magic Circle firms did not do so until they reached at least 10 years PQE. This means that partnership may not be on the table until you’re getting close to 10 years PQE. If you’re approaching or have passed that mark and not made Partner, then it probably is not coming. 


Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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