Are you enjoying Bright Network?

Key differences between Magic Circle Law firms

Book open Reading time: 4 mins

In the world of Commercial Law, you will often hear talk of ‘Magic Circle’ firms. This is an informal term used to describe what are generally regarded as the five leading UK-headquartered law firms, namely Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters and Slaughter and May. 

Join the UK's number-one graduate careers network

Becoming a Bright Network member is free and easy - sign up to get exclusive access to jobs, events, networking opportunities, advice and more.

These firms are some of the most prestigious in the world, and consistently guarantee highest earnings per-partner and earnings per-lawyer amongst firms headquartered in the UK. If you're considering applying to a Magic Circle law firm, it’s worth knowing the key difference between them to find out which one you’re best suited to.

Working at one of these firms involves long hours, high pressure and a fast-paced working environment, so it’s good to be aware of what you’re getting in to. We’ve put each firm under the spotlight to give you an idea of what to expect.

Allen & Overy

Allen & Overy is an international law firm structured across seven practice areas: corporate, banking, international capital markets, litigation and dispute resolution, employment and benefits, tax and real estate. They are known for their banking and geographical strengths, and have a big presence in China.

Trainees at this firm describe it as an open and sociable environment, with their own café/restaurant-by-day and bar-by-night “Lavanda” being a popular spot for trainee lawyers. The firm’s headquarters are located on the fringe of the City, meaning you are right next to Shoreditch which is packed with trendy bars for after work drinks and client entertainment. 

Clifford Chance

At Clifford Chance, transactional work rules the roost. Within this work, it’s traditionally the finance practice that shines the brightest, in particular in areas like banking and finance, capital markets and asset finance. The firm’s global nerve centre is London, and a trainee role here revolves mainly around project management. This will mean co-ordinating lawyers across different jurisdictions. The UK produces 35% of the firm’s total revenue, however there are still vast opportunities for global travel. 

Develop your skills with Bright Network Academy

Learn everything you need to know before you head to work with these free e-learning courses. Discover everything from how to develop your transferable and digital skills to how to smash the application process. 

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP

Based on Fleet Street, Freshfields' trainees are unanimous about what sets their training contract apart from others: flexibility. There is the option of three-month seats, but also the opportunity to apply for seats as you go through the training contract rather than having to do so at first. The firm boasts a glittering client list – its first ever client being the Bank of England back in 1743. A couple of years ago, Freshfields advised the government on the flotation of the Royal Mail, so you can be assured of high profile client interaction and a particularly interesting workload.  

Want to tailor your CV for a career in law? Download our legal CV templates


This firm prides itself in its personable, team oriented environment. Linklaters is an ideal place to work for those who want a hand in matters that visibly impact the key economies and sectors. As a trainee, you will get involved in projects reaching beyond UK stores – above and beyond what a lot of other firms can offer. It’s a transaction-heavy firm, so half of the 225 trainees sit in corporate, banking or capital markets-focused seats at any one time. Seats outside these realms are particularly competitive. The firm boasts a constructive atmosphere, where partners are easy to approach, and care about your career.

Slaughter and May

Unlike other Magic Circle firms, Slaughter and May haven’t embarked on aggressive programme of international expansion to every continent. The reputation of their corporate department is second to none, and they work with more FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 clients than any other law firm. They are on the look-out for strong lateral thinkers, not people who will recite verbatim what they have learnt in law school, so if you’re thinking about applying, make sure you’re passionate about thinking outside the box. They are keen to find people who will consistently come up with innovative ideas and new solutions. 

Browse graduate opportunities in law

Ready to take the leap into law? Explore available opportunities and take the first step towards a career in this exciting sector.