Different Types of Law Firm!

The Magic Circle...

The famous Magic Circle... what every aspiring lawyer (at university) dreams about!


The Magic Circle is comprised of the following law firms:


  • Allen & Overy

  • Clifford Chance

  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

  • Linklaters

  • Slaughter and May


The key characteristics of a Magic Circle firm tend to be:


  • Large in size (not the biggest but quite big!)

  • Based in London

  • Strong international presence (lots of international work and offices)

  • Lots of trainees - you'll be one of many as they tend to take on c. 100 trainees each!

  • Dominated by Corporate and Banking & Finance so a great place to work if this is your area of interest (although they do very well in other commercial areas too!)  

  • Longggg hours - typical of firms that have an international presence as you'll be dictated by the hours of the clients (who all tend to be based in other countries with different time zones) 

  • Clear hierarchal structure - not common for trainees to have the freedom to walk in and out of partners offices and even less common for all the partners / senior partner to know your name (due to the sheer size of the firm!)

  • Due to their size there's lots of staff (fee earning and non-fee earning) - if you like working for a big organisation with lots of people it's definitely one to consider 

  • More ££££$£$£$£$£ (that's ... money!)

  • International clients - a second language is definitely a preferred trait although not essential and having some form of international experience such as travelling will go some way on your application

  • Lots of multi-million / billion pound commercial clients 

  • Tend to have great offices with lots of facilities and perks 

  • Opportunities for overseas secondments 

  • Difficult to achieve a work life balance!

International Law Firms...

There are two main types of international law firms:

(1) US headquartered law firms with one UK office 

(2) Law firms with a strong UK presence (so more than 1 office) and a strong international presence 


US headquartered law firms tend to have a very strong international presence and one single UK office that will be based in London

A lot of the key features of the Magic Circle apply here and more specifically characteristics include: 

  • salary is exceptionally high (we're talking £100k plus for an NQ

  • the work is extremely interesting as you will get exposure to a lot of complex international work - as a result you'll get to experience a full 360 view of the discipline that you choose to practice in 

  • the firm tends to be dominated by corporate and banking work 

  • long hours (again, international clients mean different time zones) 

  • there tends to be a more tight knit working environment at international firms given that there is commonly only one UK based office

Other types of international law firms that fall within category 2 above tend to be UK national law firms that have merged with a law firm(s) in another country at some point in time. As a result of such merger(s), those firms have become 'international'. However, you'll find generally the culture and characteristics of national law firms (described below) are more relevant to these types of firms (e.g. Gowling WLG). There are also UK national law firms that have expanded into foreign countries as part of their growth strategy, making them now 'international' (e.g. Addleshaw Goddard). 

National Law Firms...

National law firms tend to be full service legal firms (i.e. lots of different areas of law and generally commercial but can also include private client work too) and have lots of offices around the country. There may sometimes be an international element (for example if the firm is part of an international network) but this does not represent the identity of a national law firm as it is very much UK based (unless it falls within category 2 set out above)

Key characteristics include: 

  • firms of this size act for large scale clients and do a variety of work (including city law firm equivalent work)

  • trainees can do their training contract in just one office or have the opportunity to do a seat or two in other offices around the country 

  • secondment opportunities tend to be with clients based in the UK 

  • due to the variety of areas of law offered by the firm trainees get exposure to a variety of seats 

  • there tends to be a fair few trainees (10-20) which means trainees get to spend a lot of time together and get involved in lots of trainee activities and socials 

Regional Law Firms...

Regional law firms are essentially law firms that are not headquartered in London. 

  • A regional law firm is bigger than a 'high street' firm because it has a presence outside of the community it is physically located


  • Regional firms are considered to be "commercial firms" as the money they make comes from the pockets of their clients rather than being largely dependent on legal aid income (like a high street firm is). 


  • Smaller regional firms will have their main office in a small city and several offices across one region of the UK. The bigger regional firms may have offices all around the country and do more national work. 

  • Clients of regional firms can range from local businesses to high net worth individuals and national companies.

  • You'll also find the work to be quite varied at regional firms with such firms have specific specialisms that are not widely offered at London based firms, such as agriculture law. See Agriculture & Rural

  • Key areas of law offered at regional firms tends to be private client, family law, clinical negligence and personal injury, tax, sports law, agriculture, property, commercial and start ups. 

Boutique Law Firms...

Niche / boutique law firms are not the same as high street law firms. 

Boutique firms tend to specialise in a specific area of law and are generally based in a location that has a high need for that particular legal specialism. (Example: there are lots of boutique corporate and commercial law firms in London as that tends to be a location that needs corporate lawyers the most). 

Training at a boutique firm will limit the area of law you choose to specialise in because you are basically committing to that area of law and you'll probably get very limited seat exposure. You'll find it easy to move on from a boutique law firm to a much bigger law firm if you are applying for roles in the boutique firm's specialism. However, if you are looking to apply for jobs in an area outside of that specialism, you may struggle to really demonstrate genuine interest in another area of law after having spent 2 years at a boutique firm.