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September 7, 2023, by Leah Sharpe

How to Differentiate Between Magic Circle and Silver Circle Law Firms

By Max at Next City Lawyer

Students hear a lot about Magic Circle and Silver Circle firms. This is reflected in the curious collection of firms that students apply to. We’ve seen some candidates apply to Magic Circle M&A powerhouses like Clifford Chance, whilst also applying to more specialised firms like Macfarlanes.

Although Clifford Chance and Macfarlanes pay handsomely and offer work of exceptional quality, they have little else in common.

Our team of qualified lawyers at Next City Lawyer will help you differentiate between the leading City law firms, so that you can target them logically.

What will we cover?

1. The key differentiating factors between law firms

2. The key similarities and differences between Magic and Silver Circle firms

How can I differentiate between law firms?

We believe you can break down law firms by looking at their:

  • Specialisms
  • Training
  • International strategy

Separately, you can check out our free ‘How to Choose Between Magic Circle Law Firms’ to help you differentiate between one Magic Circle firm and another.


The crucial differences between Magic and Silver Circle firms lie in their departmental specialisms. Each firm offers unique strengths across different practice areas.

For instance, Allen & Overy’s strengths lie in capital markets and banking. Their trainees have to complete seats in at least two of these areas. The firm also routinely picks up Band one rankings as well as a prestigious client roster in these areas.

By comparison, the Magic Circle firms offer smaller real estate teams than BCLP and Macfarlanes. If you are keen on high-value real estate work, then you should apply to these firms instead.


The key differences lie with how each firm structures their training contract. You should research (1) the general structure, (2) the seat offerings and (3) the secondment opportunities.

For instance, Freshfields offers an eight-seat training contract. You have to spend at least two seats in “global transactions” (corporate/finance/real estate) and one in disputes. This offers you broader experience than the other firms, but at the cost of depth of experience offered in a four-seat contract.

You should research each firm thoroughly, so that you join the firm that best aligns with your ambitions.

International strategy

Each firm offers different international opportunities. For example, Herbert Smith Freehills offers secondments in Australia and East Asia because its global strategy pivots around these regions.

By comparison, some Magic Circle firms will offer you better opportunities in the US. Freshfields has arguably had the most US success so far. Allen & Overy are also worth watching, following their proposed merger with Shearman & Sterling.

You should research the firms’ global strategies carefully, since these strategies will impact the type of cross-jurisdictional work you do at each firm.

Are there any similarities between Magic Silver Circle law firms?

International outreach

All these firms offer either integrated global office networks or “best friend” alliances with local offices in different jurisdictions. You should carefully research each firm’s global growth strategy, so that you can understand the type of cross-border work you will be doing at each firm.

Practice area strengths

The Magic Circle and Silver Circle have different specialisms, but they are generally known for M&A corporate finance and big-ticket litigation. The differences lie in the rankings between each department, so you should research the Chambers UK tier lists to decide which firm suits your interests best.

Training and supervision

You will receive exceptional training at all Magic and Silver Circle firms.  Despite their slightly different training structures, you will receive a good standard of supervision and structured training at each firm.

You will instead need to research the differences in the availability and number of seats at each firm, so that you can decide which firm aligns with your ambitions.


We hope this helps you understand the key distinguishing factors between firms in the Magic and Silver Circle. Good luck!

Interested in a career in law? Take a look at our dedicated Law Careers webpages to explore different career options.

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