Tag: magic circle

What are the different types of law firms?

Magic Circle, international, US, regional or boutique? Being a lawyer is a completely different experience depending on the type of firm you work at.

The life of a corporate lawyer at Clifford Chance bears little resemblance to the life of a family practitioner at Farrer & Co, which in turn is nothing like the day-to-day business of an insurance litigation lawyer at RPC or a personal injury solicitor at Irwin Mitchell.

Just as the work is different, so too are the people. And the firms themselves, while sharing the common goal of business success, also vary in style and outlook. We aim to give you a thumbnail sketch of the various types of firm available to you as you look for a training contract.

Readers should be aware that we are generalising to a certain extent, and you should always investigate each firm as much as you can to get a sense of individual flavour and personality.

Always check individual firms for trainee numbers and salary details. Although we have, of course, done some of the legwork for you – see the individual firm profiles.


These are the five largest and most profitable corporate law firms in London, comprising  Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May.

These are huge firms with hundreds of partners and annual UK trainee intakes of between 85 and 120 candidates.

They advise the world’s leading companies and banks on their most challenging deals and transactions. They have sleek, impressive offices with fantastic facilities and they offer thorough training, international travel and exposure to major clients and deals.

However, they are also known for long hours and high stress levels, and they tend to offer less client contact and ‘real’ work than smaller firms. To make up for this, the salary and bonuses are at the top end of the scale.

If you see yourself as a high-flying corporate or finance lawyer, juggling big deals and huge sums of money, and are prepared to put in the hours, then these are the firms for you.


This wide-ranging group offers a similar approach and philosophy to the Magic Circle and includes firms like Norton Rose Fulbright, CMS, HFW and Taylor Wessing.

Work still has a definite corporate/commercial focus, clients are household names and deals are big.

Trainee numbers are generally smaller, but you’ll still be part of a large group, with perhaps an intake of around 60 trainees each year.

The hours and stress levels might not be on a par with the Magic Circle firms, but the pay might not be quite as high either.

A training contract at this type of firm can offer many of the rewards of City training, with sometimes slightly less of a stressful, hothouse environment.


Training contracts at US firms in London appear to present an enticing combination of high salaries and large corporate deals, with plenty of hands-on experience and a smaller, more manageable number of trainees (typically between five and 15).

Firms such as Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Covington & Burling, , Kirkland & Ellis, and Sidley Austin are all praised for thorough training in an environment where there is no room to hide, but plenty of space to shine. On the downside, hours can be long, with eye watering billable targets and stress levels to match.


Another group of commercial firms, handling high-quality work and offering anywhere between 12 and 50 trainee places each year.

Addleshaw Goddard (with offices in Manchester, Leeds, London and Scotland), East Anglian practice Mills & Reeve and Bristol-based Osborne Clarke.

You should be offered a good spread of work at firms like these, and the bias will still be corporate/commercial, with decent litigation and property practices too.

These firms are among the highest payers outside London, and offer an excellent alternative to the City.


This group covers a variety of firms with a number of specialist areas.

Examples include Watson Farley & Williams (particularly well known for shipping work) and Macfarlanes.

Typically there will be between 15 and 40 trainees, allowing room to shine but providing you with plenty of ready-made friends. There is often more one-to-one supervision from partners and more client contact.


The smaller London firms can provide an excellent training environment, with early responsibility, hands-on work and often your own caseload.

You will get exposure to the main areas of corporate, property and litigation, but should also get to experience some of the niche practice areas in which these smaller firms excel.

One main downside to these firms can be the slightly higher levels of uncertainty over retention rates, so check out recent stats. Firms falling into this category generally have between ten and 20 trainees.

Farrer & Co (strong in media and family); Forsters; and Bristows (IP) are examples of this type of firm.


Outside London there is a huge range of firms to choose from. Many will be leaders in their fields, with both local and national (sometimes international) clients.

The larger examples will have between ten and 30 trainees and should offer a good balance of structured training, significant work and hands-on experience.

Not to mention pretty decent hours, a short commute (depending on where you choose to live) and a good work/life balance. Some of these firms are based in one city, while others have several locations, for example Hill Dickinson.


If the idea of a large, competitive group of trainees makes you want to run a mile, and you’d rather get stuck into real work as soon as possible, then a smaller regional firm will often provide excellent client contact combined with a relaxed working atmosphere and reasonable hours.

Firms such as East Anglia-based Birketts show the positive side of legal training – where it is possible to obtain thorough, hands-on experience in a variety of practice areas without saying goodbye to your social life.

Which type of firm will you choose?

‘With economic downturn, the need to pull the trigger on claims intensifies’ – leading City litigators look at the key disputes trends for 2023

‘Disputes arise when there is disruption, and it seems to me there’s just about every type of disruption at the moment.’

With this, Julian Copeman, a disputes partner at Herbert Smith Freehills neatly summarises market expectations for 2023. It’s going to be a busy year.

From the war in Ukraine, to soaring inflation, interest rate hikes and a cost of living crisis, business conditions couldn’t be much more precarious. Add in a steady trickle of litigation from the Covid pandemic and litigators are predicting a boom year.

As Hogan Lovells financial services litigation partner Alex Sciannaca comments: ‘In normal years, parties may choose to sit on the fence for a period before launching claims, but with the economic downturn, and financial pressure building on some businesses, it may not be possible to do that – the need to pull the trigger on claims sooner rather than later intensifies.’

In the same way that many of the disputes stemming from the financial crisis only got going in the 2010s, they predict that 2023 will see a number of cases starting that relate to breach of contract due to Covid.

‘When the credit crunch hit in 2008, everyone was asking: “Where’s the litigation? You’d expect to see litigation arising,” explains Copeman. ‘It didn’t happen in 2008, there was just a lot of running around and trying to solve immediate issues. But it came through in the early 2010s and then there were years of litigation that ended in about 2018. Now there will be disputes that will start and last for the next few years.’

It’s a viewpoint shared by many of his peers in London. Mark Sansom (pictured, centre), Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s London head of dispute resolution and co-head of the global competition litigation group, says that he ‘has not known a time where it’s been as busy as it is now in over 20 years’, adding that ‘certain areas are off the charts in terms of level of activity. We are incredibly busy right across London.’

Simmons & Simmons UK disputes head Patrick Boylan points out that while the last few years have been boom times for M&A, ‘the economic climate is very different now than it was when people were entering into these deals’. In his view, the sight of heavy clouds on the economic horizon will likely encourage clients to seek potential redress through dispute resolution.

But while partners may be expecting a boom in disputes work generally, there are a number of trends in particular that they identify. Here, we take a look at where litigators expect to be busy in 2023.

ESG – related disputes

According to Linklaters’ global disputes head, Alison Wilson (pictured, left), ESG-related disputes have been defining the global disputes market since 2020. She adds: ‘There’s been an increase in greenwashing claims, activity against states for climate inaction, and interest from other regulatory authorities including the Competition and Markets Authority and the Advertising Standards Agency for false advertising claims.’

Sciannaca warns that companies need be aware that they ‘could potentially be liable for acts of overseas subsidiaries, and also need to undertake appropriate due diligence and monitoring of overseas suppliers to ensure that anti-bribery and corruption standards are met. Claims by NGOs could pose particular challenges, as their motivation for taking legal action may extend beyond financial redress to a desire for meaningful change.’

According to partners, they are now seeing disputes mandates across the E, the S and the G, including ESG compliance work and supply chain disputes around sustainability and modern slavery issues.

Group litigation

The rise of group litigation has been one of the big stories in disputes in recent years, and lawyers expect this trend to continue in 2023, particularly in areas such as competition. ‘We will continue to see a growth in collective proceedings actions,’ notes Mark Molyneux, head of disputes at Addleshaw Goddard, ‘especially in the tech space.’

Freshfields global head of dispute resolution, Sarah Parkes (pictured, right), adds that 2023 is likely to be the year when class actions activity in the UK hits maturity, with cases going to trial and settlement details emerging. She comments: ‘The mass claims in all their forms, all those proceedings will come-of-age. In the last year or so, you’ve seen Merricks v Mastercard go up to the UK Supreme Court and back on threshold legal issues – you’ll now see some of those cases actually go through the trial process.’

Litigation funding

With general disputes activity and group litigation looking busy, it’s unsurprising that litigation funding activity is also expected to boom. Sciannaca says there are an ‘increasing number of clients considering litigation funding as a route to pursuing claims, including those that wouldn’t normally have been interested in it’.

Copeman adds: ‘In troubled times people look to invest in things that seem safer. The funders have a spread of cases, they know what they’re doing in terms of spreading risk, so money will keep flowing towards litigation funding, and in the last few years that’s become a force within the market.’

Competition litigation

Competition disputes have been increasing in recent years and many predict this to continue. At Linklaters, Wilson says: ‘the competition litigation sphere will be extremely interesting. It’ll be interesting to see how the competition appeals tribunal deals with the increasing number of non-traditional claims. There’s been a move away from only traditional competition claims, such as price fixing or abuse of dominance, to broader allegations of unfair trading practices.’

Copeman highlights the shift towards competition class actions, pointing out the Meta claim that his firm is advising on. ‘You’re seeing these claims against Big Tech being fashioned as competition claims, and contentious competition litigation.’

Over at Travers Smith, dispute resolution partner Toby Robinson comments: ‘I expect funders to continue to see competition claims as potentially fertile, if uncertain, ground.’ However, he warns that ‘funders aren’t charities – as long as there are problems establishing damages, they’ll be reluctant to fund claims’.

Crypto & blockchain

Digital assets, blockchain and crypto-related claims are also increasing, according to Sciannaca. He points out that one consequence of this increase is that ‘the English courts have been asked to grapple with some tricky issues concerning frauds perpetrated by unknown persons, including the hacking of crypto wallets – and we are seeing the law adapt to allow the victims of fraud to pursue their claims, despite the inherent challenges these types of case present. We’ve seen some progressive thinking from the commercial courts in England, and London could well become a destination of choice for digital asset disputes, where jurisdiction allows for it.’

The high-profile collapse of cryptocurrency exchange FTX has had what Damian Taylor, disputes partner and co-head of international arbitration at Slaughter and May, calls a ‘ripple effect’ across the sector. He continues: ‘Because it’s so new there isn’t really law there’, so investors trying to get their money out of crypto exchanges may find themselves navigating knotty and tortuous paths without clear and well-trodden routes.

Investigatory activity

The final trend that Wilson anticipates is an uptick in investigatory activity. She concludes: ‘The post-pandemic period across the market as a whole saw a decrease in regulatory activity, but we’re starting to see this pick up again, and the FCA is looking to clear some of the longstanding investigations that it has been managing as the new director of enforcement comes in in April.’



This article first appeared on Legal Business