Choosing a law firm is hard, especially when there are so many to consider. This advice should help you to decide which firm is right for you

Magic Circle law firms

The Magic Circle is an informal term for the five most prestigious law firms headquartered in the UK. Based in London, these firms are:

Four Magic Circle firms - Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Allen & Overy, and Linklaters - are within the ten largest law firms in the world by revenue, with Slaughter and May appearing in the top 50.

Magic Circle members are extremely prestigious, and consistently rank among the highest earnings per partner and earnings per lawyer in the UK. What's more, such large law firms usually give their employees a narrower remit - meaning that they suit those who are certain of their preferred specialism.

However, entry into the Magic Circle is notoriously competitive. In addition, short-term promotion prospects are fairly low, you'll work under close supervision, and working hours can be extremely long.

Four London-based commercial barristers' chambers are sometimes collectively referred to as the 'Bar's Magic Circle'. They are:

City law firms

Based in London, but with offices across the UK and overseas, you can expect an exciting career working with high-profile clients such as large commercial companies and financial institutions.

Competition for training contracts at large commercial city firms is intense and employees have a reputation for working long, unsocial hours. However, your hard work will be rewarded with high salaries and impressive benefits.

City firms include:

National law firms

Ideal for those who don't want to work in London, national law firms have a network of offices in a number of regions and cities across the UK. This type of firm will operate in locations such as Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Nottingham. Firms include:

The work you undertake will vary between commercial and general practice and clients are mostly public and private companies and local authorities.

Salaries are reasonable but depend on location. A big advantage of national firms is that employees often experience a better work/life balance than their city firm counterparts.

High street law firms

High street firms come in all shapes and sizes, from long-established organisations to sole practitioners, and primarily act on behalf of private individuals. A person on the street can literally walk in and ask for help with a legal issue.

Practice areas of such firms include crime, family, property/real estate, wills and probate, employment, immigration and personal injury to name a few.

Research what's available in your local area for examples of firms.

USA-based law firms

You don't need to head to America to work for this type of firm; in fact, there's an increasing number of USA-based law firms in the UK. With their prestigious reputations, American firms tend to offer higher salaries to trainees in line with the New York market. They also provide increased responsibilities and international opportunities.

USA-based firms include:

Top law firms that are hiring now

Several top law firms are currently hiring. These include:

How to choose a law firm

You should start by asking yourself what you want from your legal career and then research firms that line up with your goals. Take the following factors into consideration when making your choice.

  • Practice area - From banking to personal injury and shipping to sports there are lots of areas of law you could work in. If you're struggling to narrow down your options think about the topics that you enjoy at university. Take into consideration any legal work experience that you've done, including vacation schemes, and reflect on the projects and cases you found most interesting.
  • Size of firm - This will affect the clients you deal with, the work you do and the numbers of trainees that are taken on. Typically, larger firms tend to be commercial, city practices that advise major organisations. High-street firms are among the smallest and advise members of the public. Firms can be categorised into Magic Circle, City, national, international, high street and USA-based.
  • Location - Many firms have offices across the UK so this may not be an issue. Nevertheless, you need to take this into account as your base could affect the types of firms you can apply to.
  • Training programme - You need to do some research to find out the structure of the training contract and whether they offer any extras such as client secondments or overseas work.
  • Company ethos - You need to know how a firm operates, its reputation in the community and what the working culture is like. Researching these factors will give you a good idea if you'll fit in.

Top 50 law firms

According to The Lawyer UK 200 2018, the below organisations make up the top 50 UK law firms based on annual turnover.

  • DLA Piper - London
  • Clifford Chance - London
  • Hogan Lovells - London
  • Allen & Overy - London
  • Linklaters - London
  • Norton Rose Fulbright - London
  • Freshflields Bruckhaus Deringer - London
  • CMS - London
  • Herbert Smith Freehills - London
  • Eversheds Sutherland - London
  • Ashurst - London
  • Clyde & Co - London
  • Slaughter and May - London
  • Gowling WLG - London
  • Pinsent Masons - London
  • Simmons & Simmons - London
  • Bird & Bird - London
  • Taylor Wessing - London
  • Berwin Leighton Paisner - London
  • Addleshaw Goddard - London
  • Irwin Mitchell - Sheffield
  • Osborne Clarke - Bristol
  • DWF - Manchester
  • DAC Beachcroft - London
  • Fieldfisher - London
  • Macfarlanes - London
  • Kennedys - London
  • Stephenson Harwood - London
  • HFW - London
  • Withers - London
  • Watson Farley & Williams - London
  • Mishcon de Reya - London
  • Charles Russell Speechlys - London
  • Travers Smith - London
  • Shoosmiths - Milton Keynes
  • RPC - Bristol
  • Mills & Reeve - London
  • Womble Bond Dickinson - Bristol
  • BLM - Manchester
  • Trowers & Hamlins - London
  • Weightmans - Liverpool
  • Hill Dickinson - London
  • Burges Salmon - Bristol
  • Gateley - Birmingham
  • Ince & Co - London
  • TLT - Bristol
  • Freeths - Manchester
  • Penningtons Manches - London
  • Keoghs - Bolton
  • Shakespeare Martineau - Birmingham.

Why you should consider working for a smaller firm

The prestigious nature of Magic Circle members and other large law firms makes them an incredibly attractive proposition for graduates. However, there are several benefits of working for a small law firm. These include:

  • Closer client contact - You'll have plenty of opportunity to engage with clients and boost your interpersonal skills. In many larger firms, this experience is reserved for senior employees.
  • Enhanced promotion prospects - Fewer employees vying for management-level positions means that partnership within two or three years isn't out of the question. The smaller, more closely knit workforce means that it's easier to prove your worth to senior employees.
  • Flexible working hours - Smaller law firms usually offer a relatively informal and relaxed working atmosphere, which extends to employee benefits such as work hours and dress code. The workplace is often much friendlier than at the larger firms.
  • Greater hands-on experience - You'll probably be trusted to perform important tasks without supervision, something that you wouldn't experience in a larger firm. What's more, you'll probably have a greater say in your firm's direction as senior partners are often open to suggestions from junior colleagues.
  • Varied workload - You'll work across numerous practice areas as, unlike many of their larger counterparts, smaller law firms are usually generalist. Working for a smaller law firm can provide you with a greater understanding of where your future specialism may lie.

Every law firm has its own culture - meaning that you're sure to find one that's compatible with your skills, personality and experience. For more information, search for a training contract.

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