Freshfields resists ‘magic circle’ label amidst US expansion

updated on 14 May 2021

Freshfields wishes to distance itself from its ‘magic circle’ tag, the firm’s global managing partner has said. Following two years of aggressive expansion into the US, Alan Mason said that it is “difficult to put [the firm] in a particular box” and that management “don’t think the magic circle is a correct reference” given the firm’s US competitors.

The ‘magic circle’ is used to describe a small group of five of the most prestigious London-headquartered law firms in the UK and Freshfields, tracing its roots back to 18th Century London, has long been considered a member. The other four firms considered to be in the magic circle are Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Linklaters and Slaughter and May.

Since 2018, Freshfields has added 18 lateral partners and promoted eight new ones in the US, bringing the total number of US partners to 60. As noted by Bloomberg Law, the firm has followed an unusual stateside expansion strategy by hiring directly from competitors rather than seeking a merger with an already established US firm, an achievement “few others in the [magic circle] group have accomplished”. Senior Partner Georgia Dawson said the approach responded to client feedback “rather than picking up a whole suite of areas that might not fit with what our clients need”.

The firm now aims to continue to expand in the “three pillars” of New York, Silicon Valley and Washington DC. “We’re going through a very energetic and dynamic phase in the history of the firm,” Mason added. Given that ‘magic circle’ is an informal distinction that users strongly associate with the firm, however, it will be a hard one to shake.