If you are a lawyer considering a move to London, you might wonder which law firm in the UK will be best for you. The answer depends on what sort of money and work you are looking for, and how much work-life balance you want.
To help you decide, we have compiled a guide to the different tiers of law firms operating in London, and what to expect in terms of reputation, remuneration, and workload.
Top US law firms
Reputation, excellent work, loads of money, long hours
If you’re looking to work on some of the biggest deals and matters in the world while being paid exceptionally well, target a top US law firm in London.
You can expect to work extremely hard, with 2000+ billable hours per year being a realistic starting point.
In return, you get paid handsomely. Newly qualified lawyers at top US firms start at £160,000 per year, before bonus.
Top US law firms in London include Kirkland & Ellis, Vinson Elkins, Sidley Austin, Shearman & Sterling, and White & Case.
Magic Circle law firms
Best training, reputation, excellent work, long hours
Working at a Magic Circle law firm, you can expect to work on some of the biggest deals in the world, opposite the US firms mentioned above, but often with larger teams.
You will work hard at these firms too, with over 1800 billable hours per year as the norm.
Benefits for newly qualified lawyers working at a Magic Circle firm include a starting salary of approximately £105,000 plus bonus, along with access to the best training possible in the London market.
London’s five Magic Circle law firms are Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters, and Slaughter & May.
Silver Circle law firms
Weekends free, good training, reputation, excellent work
At Silver Circle firms, you will work on premium national and international deals and have access to excellent professional training and development opportunities.
You will still work hard at these firms with an average of 1600+ billable hours per year, but you will get home at a reasonable time and weekends will normally be free.
Silver Circle lawyers get paid well compared to most other professionals in the City, with newly qualified lawyers taking home about £95,000 per year plus bonuses.
London’s Silver Circle firm are Travers Smith, Macfarlanes, BCLP, Ashurst, and Herbert Smith Freehills.
Top-tier and mid-tier firms
Reasonable hours, good work, explore Europe
Working at top-tier and mid-tier law firms in London, you will get paid at the upper end of what a worker in the City can expect, enabling you to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.
You will work on interesting deals across all sectors except finance and private equity, although these are unlikely to be in the premium bracket.
With weekends free and loads of world-class tourist destinations just a couple of hours away by plane, a career at one of these firms is a great lifestyle option.
Top-tier and mid-tier law firms in London include Addleshaw Goddard, CMS Cameron McKenna, Osborne Clarke, and Bird & Bird.
Want more inside information?
RollOnFriday is a fantastic website for insider information on salaries and employee satisfaction at the major UK firms.
You can also contact Thomas Eckardt at or Kumara mallikaaratchi at EG Consulting for a confidential discussion about an international legal career, market information and salary bench-marking. Thomas started his career in London, working at various law firms within the corporate M&A sector, and knows the UK legal market very well.