Advice

Open thread: What is it like to work in the magic circle?

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173

Share your experiences below the line

rabbit-city

For aspiring corporate lawyers across the country, it doesn’t get much better than a career at the magic circle.

Law students can’t help but be enticed by the mystery surrounding old school stalwart Slaughter and May, or the equally prestigious international giant Clifford Chance, which even has its own swimming pool. Then there’s Anglo-German heavyweight Freshfields, a law firm complete with staff perks to impress even the choosiest of lawyers.

The big five is rounded off by Allen & Overy, whose co-founder famously advised King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis of 1936, and Barbican-based Linklaters — a global megafirm with a reputation that’s hard to rival.

Though the prestige is unquestionable, it can sometimes be hard to cut through the graduate recruitment guff and find out what it’s really like to work in the magic circle.

That’s why we’re inviting trainees and solicitors to share their experiences, anecdotes and opinions of life at the top of the City law food chain. You can throw in your two cents in the one and only Legal Cheek comments section below.

173 Comments

Anonymous

Getting whipped into shape by pedantic yet commercial/brilliant psychopaths is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it can set you up nicely for later in life.

(43)(1)

Anonymous

In 20 years I’ve never met anyone brilliant at an MC firm. All the brilliant minds are at the Bar.

(43)(45)

Anonymous

Nah the bar is for people who like hearing there own voice.

(30)(15)

Anonymous

And who can spell.

(102)(3)

Anonymous

Is that a dig at me or the first anonymous?

Anonymous

It’s a dig at the retard that doesn’t know the difference between there and their.

Anonymous

It’s a dig at the anonymous that can’t spell.

Anonymous

they can spell, just not grammatically correct.

Bumcheeks McGuffin

“… the anonymous that can’t spell.”? “they can spell, just not grammatically correct.”? None of you are using the English language properly! If you are unable to understand why those clauses are examples of not using English properly, do not go near a legal career!

Anonymous

The proper construction is: “None of you IS using the English language properly!”

It would also be correct to say, “Bumcheeks McGuffin IS a retarded twat”.

Anonymous

Utter rubbish – the bar these days is full of mediocre types who kept being told that if you shut yourself in a library for long enough during university then you could … shut yourself in a library for the rest of your life.

(29)(15)

Anon

Someone’s a jealous loser

(9)(3)

QED

Tell us more about your life

Anonymous

Except that the commercial bar does, y’know, pay about 3-5 times more than magic circle solicitors of the same seniority. Just saying.

(10)(1)

Anonymous

Who told you this? Unfortunately, you’ve been had.

Anonymous

Matty/BMX, is that you?

Tyrion

Probably the truest statement I’ve read on legal cheek. Short but accurate. Hat tip. Technically has set me up for life and i’ve developed good work habits. But to describe people there as unpleasant would be underselling it. Ruthless no-life having psychos who will kill you for a sniff of a bigger share of the equity.

(39)(0)

Anonymous

Tyrion – are you still there now?

(4)(0)

Tyrion

Still in law, not MC/US anymore.

My advice, jump before you are pushed. Hanging around until 12 years pqe to be told you won’t make partner makes less sense than moving at 4pqe into a PE fund where you will earn more in salary and bonus than all your peers who don’t make partner at a top City firm.

(24)(0)

s.32, Salmon Act 1986

Who hangs around until 12 PQE? Seriously, if you’re not on partnership track by 7 PQE at the latest, do what I did and jump ship to another MC/US Firm that will offer you an agreed promotion timetable on the way in.

Of course, if you can’t swing that sort of deal, maybe MC/US partnership isn’t for you…

Anon

Why wouldn’t a US firm set you up for later in life the same way a MC firm does?

(7)(1)

MC NQ

Don’t do it.

(10)(3)

Anonymous

Why?

(0)(0)

Legal-lyfe, 2PQE

Former Freshfields trainee here. The two years were definitely a challenging experience: 100-hour weeks were a regular feature in the corporate team, holidays had to be cancelled at minute notice and I copped plenty of heat just for requesting a weekend trip home to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday.

I moved over to Dechert at NQ, tired of the boiler room. The beasting turned out to be just as bad (if not worse), except that now most of my colleagues are also backstabbing turbokhunts.

Oh well.

(71)(0)

Anonymous

Surely this is not real — too identifying.

(13)(15)

Legal-lyfe, 2PQE

You wish mate. 100% honest to God, serious as snorting coke outta a hooker’a fudgehole.

(4)(0)

Tyrion

He means he can’t believe anyone would be so silly as to reveal so much info about themselves online.

(0)(3)

Legal-lyfe, 2PQE

I understood what he meant. I’ve got nothing to hide.

Donald Trump

Same hours as US firm but less pay

(20)(1)

Anonymous

^^^ US firm trainee who wishes he could get out, I’m guessing. Suck it up, bud, 2 years and you can go to a silver circle firm, perhaps.

(5)(15)

Anonymous

Why would he do that?

(16)(2)

Anonymous

TBF, having worked at both a Magic Circle firm (Trainee to 5PQE) and a US firm (5PQE to date) that description is entirely accurate… Hours are basically the same (maybe marginally more here) but pay (including bonus comparison for similar workload) is probably 20% more.

(19)(2)

Anonymous

“Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” was how Hobbes described it.

(24)(1)

Anonymous

Maybe not poor…

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Not sure Hobbes was necessarily talking about money.

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Extremely competitive environment. Back-stabbing trainees etc. Some good people but some genuinely unpleasant. Don’t waste your life on it.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

“Slaughter and May, or the equally prestigious international giant Clifford Chance”

Lolz

(59)(10)

llb graduit

Can i getz da tc dere if i gotz a 2.2 llb from Lundun Met? plz i needz da £££

(24)(13)

Anonymous

Slaughters NQ salary of barely £70k (less than Bakers!) tells you everything you need to know about direction of travel at that once great firm.

(18)(8)

Anonymous

Yeah Slaughters these days shouldn’t really be mentioned in the same breath as the rest of the magic circle – S&M has been left behind, unfortunately.

(30)(10)

Anonymous

Are S&M even in the magic circle any more?

(15)(9)

Anonymous

Don’t conflate equity partner greed with greatness. The firm is still among the most prestigious and profitable in the world, especially considering its comparably ‘puny’ size to others. Shamefully the junior salaries continue to be neglected, but the exit opportunities are second to none as far as UK shops go.

(14)(10)

Anonymous

You’re woefully misguided – they are no longer in competition with their erstwhile magic circle partners. Why? S&M can no longer hope to compete in that particular league.

Slaughters equity partner

Chippy are we?

Anonymous

Rather seems so – keep at it though!

Insider

Rumours in the office have it Slaughters are upping NQs to £100,000 in early January 2017. They are keen to recapture the higher ground after having fallen behind.

(12)(8)

Anonymous

Can anyone else verify this? Would surely be another A&O-style game changer if true!

(1)(1)

Anonymous

I work there, he’s so full of shyte. No such rumours exist.

Anonymous

Addleshaws are upping NQ salaries to a whopping £80k in January. Apparently the constant trolling from LC users forced the partners into action.

(3)(1)

RootyTooty

It’s a MASSIVE change from the gruff Top 20 firm I used to work at.

Everyone I have met/ work with are very nice. No-one has time to be grumpy – we are all too busy working.

Days are long, yes, but you work all hours in EVERY law firm.

(12)(7)

Anonymous

“Days are long, yes, but you work all hours in EVERY law firm.”

That is a lie magic circle lawyers tell themselves to try and cope.

(59)(1)

Anonymous

Bollocks. Work at a regional firm where, yes, pay is lower but so is cost of living, house prices and you actually have the time to spend your money. You work “normal hours”, i.e. usually leaving no later than 6. Plus you’re not just a cog in the machine but someone valuable to the firm.

(16)(2)

Anonymous

Hahaha. The shit the regioners tell themselves on here is hilarious.

(4)(22)

Anonymous

Can a similar post be made for US firms?

(6)(0)

Future US trainee

Yes please! Would love to hear people’s experiences.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

You really wouldn’t.

(42)(1)

Future US trainee

Are all US firms really alike, though? Do they all beast their lawyers? Or do some have ‘nicer’ reputations than others?

(4)(1)

Anonymous

Depends which firm. NYC/LA shops are brutal without exemption. Then there’s firms like Reed Smith or Faegre Baker Daniels, who have lesser demands.

JD trainee

Then there’s Jones Day with the most hung partners in the City. I would know what I’m talking about.

Anonymous

I have heard Covington has a nicer, friendlier reputation whilst still being a top quality US shop (a step above the above-mentioned firms of Reed Smith, Faegre ilk).

Jones Day NQ

Jones Day is by far the friendliest. So friendly that I have intimate knowledge of every varicose vein on my supervising partner’s trouser snake. I only joined in late October.

Anonymous

I so wish that happens – the raw bantz surrounding Jones Day will be delicious.

(18)(0)

Anonymous

Lots of time spent in the pool, net in hand, as the managing partner laughed his head off at me as his latest dirty deposit evaded my capture.

(23)(0)

LOOK AT ME!!!! WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

To the people complaining about MC, do you imagine high street practice is any better?

Sure, you get your 9-5 for a whopping £35k a year salary, but the partners are equally horrible and aggressively demanding.

You’re given more work than you can possibly do with no support, you’re expected to find time to grow the department somehow and take on even more work, write articles for the weekly newsletter, the firms website, and cover anyone who’s ill, and the phone will never ever stop ringing.

In all honestly I don’t think there is a single solicitor not having a nightmare at the moment, MC or otherwise.

(33)(8)

Anonymous

This. I’ve had the (mis)fortune of working as a paralegal in house, with a big London corporate, and I’m now doing my TC at a regional firm. From what I’ve seen, all areas of law, and all law firms, are fairly rubbish environments, so much so that I’m planning to move away from law when I qualify.

(13)(2)

Allen Partridge

Some departments at Allen & Overy do not appear to acknowledge the weekend.

(25)(2)

Anonymous

Which ones specifically?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Probably any of the finance ones. They’re good though.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Hellish and miserable but will set you up for the rest of your life.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Yes surely worth it for the many exit opportunities if you should choose to take them.

(2)(0)

In houser

The truth is that much of the so called ‘magic circle’ is hype built around a slightly ridiculous nickname. Training at a magic circle firm makes sense if you want to specialise in banking or finance work, because these firms (along with some US firms) have the best connections with the banks, but not if you want to do another area of law. Being an employment lawyer or IP lawyer in the magic circle is basically a support staff role.

(29)(3)

Junior barrister

I work with MC sols sometimes. A few times, I’ve got chatting to those with equivalent levels of post-qualification experience than me it often transpires that they’ve been working late into the night and on weekends. Whenever I express sympathy they usually say something like, oh yes but I know you barristers work just as hard, if not harder… Hard to tell if they’re being polite, or genuinely believe this. And it’s not exactly politic for me to put them right. But it’s definitely not true. I couldn’t work MC hours.

(20)(4)

Anonymous

So you’re doing yourself the disservice of writing about incidents in which your betters have deigned to be polite about your cute little job?

(5)(35)

Junior barrister

Er what?

(16)(2)

Anonymous

Articulate and quick to understand as the rest of your profession, I see.

(4)(27)

Another junior barrister

Jealousy gets you nowhere in life, Anonymous.

Anonymous

“Betters”? Do you know how dumb some MC trainees are?

(18)(3)

Anonymous

Your sols have to work longer hours than you. They’re stupider and slower than you.

(7)(5)

Another junior barrister

Absolutely. I work much less than my MC friends but make at least as much. The quality of life is incomparable. They are virtually all eyeing the door if they haven’t already run through it. When I have to work hard, I make more money. When they have to work hard, they make more money for someone else.

I couldn’t do it, it’s like selling your soul.

(22)(4)

Anonymous

Really? I’d always assumed that barristers work really long hours. I did some mini pupillages with criminal sets back when I was studying law, and they seemed to have incredibly hectic schedules. If I can ask, how many hours do you work on average?

(8)(0)

Another junior barrister

I wouldn’t recommend the criminal bar as it’s terrible pay but generally the people attracted to the criminal bar would never consider the MC, it’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Anecdotally the hours at the criminal bar are better than the MC and people enjoy the work more, but as I say the pay is terrible and most people struggle with that and are trying to jump ship. Hectic is probably the right word though in terms of last minute instructions, being in and out of court, travelling around the country etc etc.

The Bar’s hours outside the criminal bar are different for every barrister but that’s kind of the point – you are master of your own destiny. I did at the start work silly hours but that was my own choice/fault. For the most part I didn’t mind it because it meant I was getting paid more and/or advancing my career (whereas MC trainee friends were missing long-planned holidays to pull all-nighters mindlessly highlighting 1,000 page contracts for their supervisors, and getting nothing out of it except resentment). Now I work pretty much 5 days a week and I couldn’t complain about my earnings relative to my quality of life. I mean I’m sure if you want to earn £800k a year at Wilberforce you will be working all of the hours that God sends, but you’re earning £800k…!

(9)(0)

MC 1PQE

I work pretty much the same hours as my counterparts at US firms, for less pay.

Honestly looking to switch over.

(13)(8)

Anonymous

alternatively, why not move somewhere for *gasp* less money, and try to have a life?

(7)(2)

Alpha king

Fuck off what a ridiculous idea.
Let me guess homie, high street?

(4)(4)

Hulk Lad

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(0)

MC 1PQE

Down vote all you like. When you’re all talking about how the hours are so much worse at the US firms, who do you think is on the other side of the deal? It’s usually us.

(14)(5)

Anonymous

Obvious US trainee is obvious.

(8)(9)

Anonymous

no sympathy. If you didn’t look into the firm first or do work exp there more fool you

(2)(2)

Bobby

There is no way to know what a firm is like before you are being paid a salary there as a trainee or more. I’ve said before on these threads, I had the fortune of 4 vacation schemes at City firms. The 2 weeks at each were quite simply exceptional. Dinners in posh restaurants, cooking lessons, tours of London, drinks, and most of all pleasant partners, associates and trainees. Everyone seemed so happy, shiny and well paid. After 3 months in as a trainee, people change and show you their real personalities.

(39)(1)

Anonymous

Did a vac scheme with one of the magic circle and my supervising associate barely said a word to me for two weeks/shut down my questions at evey opportunity because ‘he’d just taken on a big deal’.

(6)(0)

Jones Day 3PQE

My supervising partner shut me down with his gargantuan leadpipe. I didn’t mind, I’m a managing associate now.

(22)(0)

Know him irl

No you didn’t bobby

(0)(4)

MC

Trained at a SC firm and moved to a MC firm at qualification. Transition was extremely painful. Wouldn’t recommend it.

(13)(0)

Anonymous

Painful, as in the hours and the expectations? Or just the people?

(0)(0)

MC

Both the expectations and the people. The SC firm didn’t sufficiently equip me with the skills to meet the expectations of the MC firm and the MC firm wasn’t very forgiving.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

If you were born in the wrong body, however painful, you had no choice but to transition.

(3)(3)

Anonymous

So with all the negativity, is there anyone who enjoys it, and would encourage it as a career choice?

(8)(1)

Magic Circle Trainee

Yes! It’s been enjoyable and very rewarding for me so far – genuinely feel I am being trained very well.

(17)(6)

Anonymous

Hi HR

(98)(5)

Anonymous

The negativity is just because there are far more people who wish they were there than are actually there.

(21)(6)

Anonymous

Worked for three of the five MC firms. If you are willing to work exceptionally hard and are smart enough then you will be given plenty and varied opportunities and development that will open more doors than probably anywhere else you could train at. But you will sacrifice part of your life to get those opportunities and prove yourself. Expectations are probably too high, too often, but generally the culture is ok even if there is a strong element of conforming to some pretty traditional attitudes.

(18)(0)

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