If you decide you want to be a commercial lawyer, your next big decision is what kind of firm you want to work for. Here's our guide to the main types of graduate employer in this sector.

The Magic Circle

The Magic Circle refers to the five largest commercial law firms in the UK by revenue, who are:

  • Allen & Overy
  • Clifford Chance
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
  • Linklaters
  • Slaughter and May

They're focused on international corporate and finance work, mostly for large corporates and investment banks.

Because of their importance, we've compared the Magic Circle firms in a separate article you can find here.

The next biggest UK firms

The firms that rank just below the magic circle in terms of reputation and revenue are similar to them in many ways. If you choose to work at one of these firms, you'll get a similar quality of training.

They don't have quite the same level of prestige attached to them, but you may end up with a better work-life balance. You'll also be part of a smaller start group, can give a more personal feel to the experience. They key firms to know about are:

  • Ashurst
  • CMS Cameron McKenna
  • Herbert Smith Freehills
  • Simmons & Simmons

At one of these firms, you'll probably end up working on slightly lower-profile matters – although some of the smaller firms have outstanding strengths in particular areas, for example Herbert Smith Freehills in litigation.

UK and US mergers

Firms that have come about through a merger between a top City firm and a similar US one tend to service the same kind of large, international clients as the Magic Circle and other top City firms.

The key firms to know about are:

  • Hogan Lovells
  • Jones Day
  • Mayer Brown
  • Norton Rose Fulbright

Thanks to their dual roots, they tend to have a large network of offices across the world.

US firms

Many of the leading New York or Chicago firms have large offices in London.

The key firms to know about are:

  • Latham & Watkins
  • Shearman & Sterling
  • White & Case

These firms also focus on international corporate and finance work but, because they haven't been in the London market as long as the homegrown firms, often concentrate on particular areas of expertise.

National firms

Large commercial firms with offices across the UK, and sometimes extensive overseas networks.

For example:

  • DLA Piper
  • Pinsent Masons

These firms do a broad spread of commercial work for clients ranging from local businesses to corporates and investment banks.

Mid-sized firms

Between the large City firms and smaller local outfits, you'll find a long list of commercial law firms with London offices and overseas networks that can still offer graduates high-profile work.

For example:

  • Mishcon de Reya
  • RPC
  • Stephenson Harwood

These firms do a wide range of commercial work, often UK-focused, for a diverse range of large to small businesses, and other organisations and individuals.

Professional services firms

Originally accountancy firms, these behemoths now offer a broad range of business advice services, including legal services.

For example:

  • PwC Legal

The advantage of working as a lawyer in at a professional services firm is that you get to work with their prestigious international clients, alongside other business experts from the firm.

Niche firms

Specialised mid-sized commercial firms.

For example:

  • Capsticks
  • Sheridans

These firms specialise in one or two areas of law or in particular client sectors, though usually offer a range of other services and/or act for other clients too.

Regional firms

Firms that focus on advising clients in a particular region.

For example:

  • Burges Salmon
  • Forbes

These firms serve local commercial clients and individuals.