Is the bar’s appeal to the best graduates destroying the magic circle?

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By Alex Aldridge on

In America the top legal talent joins law firms — but not always in Britain

London’s elite law firms are being fatally weakened in their battle with top US rivals by the attraction of the bar to the best British law graduates, an influential legal blogger has claimed in an article causing a stir this week.

While the leading New York firms are populated with the very best legal minds, the equivalent outfits on this side of the pond miss out on such geniuses because most choose to become commercial barristers not solicitors.

Add in sterling’s weakness against the dollar, which is allowing American firms to bulk up their presence in London while paying huge salaries, and the magic circle quartet of Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Linklaters and Freshfields is “doomed”.

That’s basically the thesis of Mark Brandon, a law firm strategy consultant and long-time legal journalist, whose blog was republished on respected law website Legal Business yesterday after a self-published version caught the attention of industry leaders.

Referring to the bar as “an antediluvian system which seems to suit primarily those people who benefit most from it: barristers”, Brandon argues:

Yes, you can go on as much as you like about how special the English court system is, how respected around the world it is, and so on, but the net effect of taking many of the most talented legal brains out of the intake valves of law firms and sticking them as guns-for-hire in antiquated premises clustered where the centre of the English legal universe used to be has been to deprive the UK’s law firms of the cream of the legal talent pool, not to mention revenue.

Moving on from images of cream in pools, Brandon also notes several other factors at play. These include magic circle firms’ unsuccessful attempts to conquer the US (which he attributes to their lower profitability) and the huge size of the US litigation industry relative to the UK.

Put it all together and you’re left with “a toxic cocktail for UK law”. Drink that in your cream-free pool!

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