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by Maria Ho | January 09, 2024

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Last year’s Vault’s Associate Survey had over 23,000 U.S. associate attorneys provide feedback on the prestige of law firms. They also provided feedback on what it’s like to work at their law firm. Vault’s Head of Research, Maria Ho, took a look at what the data tells us about the U.S. offices of Magic Circle firms. In the survey, this elite London-based grouping includes Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, and Freshfields (Vault doesn’t survey Slaughter & May due to its limited U.S. presence).

We paired insights from the 2023 survey with additional insights from Alexis Lamb, an expert on the global legal market, Partner and Head of Operations at Jowers | Vargas, and ex-Linklaters (Hong Kong) associate. Jowers | Vargas specializes in “relocation recruiting” for V100 law firms, top boutiques, and key in-house clients and has placed hundreds of BigLaw attorneys at all seniority levels into markets in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, into U.S. markets from overseas, and from one U.S. market to another.

QUALITY OF LIFE

The U.S. arms of Magic Circle firms tend to perform very well in Quality of Life ratings. In fact, when it comes to Vault’s Best Law Firms to Work For—which is based on multiple factors, including Satisfaction, Quality of Work, Compensation, and Hours—all four firms make the Top 30; Clifford Chance is #1, Allen & Overy is #12, Linklaters is #21, and Freshfields is #28. What’s more, all four firms have seen increases in their Best Law Firms to Work For ranking over the last five years.

Associate feedback from the 2023 Associate Survey supports these rankings:

  • “A&O is as good of a workplace as you will find in BigLaw. Colleagues and partners are supportive, and you can maintain a life outside of work while still growing your practice. We definitely socialize amongst each other (in both formal and informal settings), although it's not an everyday thing. More than anything, it's just a pleasant and supportive workplace, which is a rare breed.”
  • Clifford Chance: “In addition to the quality of work, the people are what make Clifford Chance great. Collaboration exists from top to bottom; partners, associates, and staff are all highly motivated, team-oriented individuals who all want to see the firm succeed. Firm-planned social events for both lawyers and staff are frequent (almost weekly).”
  • “Culture is probably the best aspect of Linklaters. Everyone is cordial, they respect you, and they care about your growth. I regularly socialize with my colleagues, both within and outside of the firm.”
  • “I chose [Freshfields] based on the top-notch international work, but also because everyone just seemed so nice. I was very happy to be proven right. There is great camaraderie regardless of year or status, it is incredibly progressive, and it allows many opportunities to interact and lead projects beyond your year. Everyone does their utmost to respect life outside of work.”

Alexis explains, “At many top Wall Street and Midtown Manhattan firms, lean deal teams and a free-market assignment system can inadvertently create a ‘sink or swim’ culture that we don’t see in the Magic Circle firms, especially in their U.S. satellite offices.  The difference isn’t so much London-versus-New York, though. A California or Philadelphia or Texas or Atlanta firm’s New York (satellite) office is going to be very different from a New York-based firm’s head office. There are notable exceptions to this, but the up-and-out competition isn’t quite as pronounced at satellite offices in New York as it is in many New York BigLaw heavy-hitters. Being at a smaller office of a global firm can be the sweet spot with respect to work-life balance and career progression.” She points out that there’s also the sense that U.S.-based associates at Magic Circle firms are more encouraged to take vacations than their counterparts at U.S. BigLaw firms, possibly in line with European mentality around time off.

INTERNATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

Fifty-four percent of associates from Magic Circle firms reported that one of their top three reasons for choosing their firm was International Opportunities/Presence. For non-Magic Circle firms, this factor was in the top three for only 5% of associates.

Alexis says that international secondments, even at Magic Circle firms, are on an as-needed basis, so associates joining a Magic Circle firm in the U.S. shouldn’t expect to easily spend the summer months working out of the Paris office. However, it’s not unusual for associates to get an email from a practice group head in a foreign office alerting them to secondment opportunities in that office in response to an overabundance of deal flow there. By contrast, firms with a scant overseas presence won’t have such opportunities (though U.S. firms with robust international practices will give associates similar secondment opportunities).  Secondment is not the only international opportunity, however. Alexis also points out, “You’ll also do many more international deals even if your GPS coordinates remain firmly U.S.-based. A&O-Shearman merger aside, much of the deal flow out of the Magic Circle’s U.S. offices involves advising on U.S. pieces of large, international transactions. Even at firms like Freshfields, which have strengthened their U.S. footprint with recent key lateral partner hires, you’ll still receive international work.”

U.S. PRESENCE

More than two-thirds of the Magic Circle associates in Vault’s survey were in New York, indicating that those looking to work in the city have a better chance at joining one of these firms. However, all four also have other U.S. offices. Allen & Overy’s impending merger with Shearman & Sterling will mean a presence for the firm in additional U.S. cities, and Clifford Chance opened a Houston office in the summer of 2023.  

Alexis notes that Freshfields is a firm to watch with respect to U.S. growth. Their global growth strategy is focused on U.S. expansion, which can be seen with recent U.S. partner hires as well as their move into a new, larger New York office space in early 2024. The firm has added over 200 US lawyers in recent years, including opening a new Silicon Valley office in 2020.

For more information, visit each firm’s Vault profile or email Alexis at alexis@jowersvargas.com.

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