Silver Circle (law firms)

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The Silver Circle is a group of elite corporate law firms headquartered in London, United Kingdom that has evolved significantly as the UK legal market has been affected by globalisation and mergers. The law firms generally described by The Lawyer as comprising the Silver Circle were historically Ashurst, Herbert Smith, Macfarlanes, SJ Berwin and Travers Smith, but are currently limited to Macfarlanes and Travers Smith.[1] Slaughter and May and Mishcon de Reya are also sometimes considered to be members.[2]


The term Silver Circle was coined by The Lawyer magazine in response to the term Magic Circle. According to The Lawyer, the term Silver Circle is intended to define a category of firms with a similar approach.

The Lawyer magazine editor Catrin Griffiths’ definition in 2005 read: “Silver circle firms are content to advise a premium UK client base rather than service global institutions. A lot of work is private equity-dominated […] it is sexy and it pays. By the way, there is something else that characterises these firms: a disdain for an overtly managerial approach and a horrified avoidance of big firm bureaucracy.”.[1][3]

History and evolution[edit]

The Silver Circle in 2005[edit]

As defined by The Lawyer magazine in 2005, the Silver Circle initially comprised Ashurst, Herbert Smith (now Herbert Smith Freehills), Macfarlanes, SJ Berwin and Travers Smith.[1][1] At the time, Berwin Leighton Paisner was listed as an ‘associate member’ of the Silver Circle. According to The Lawyer it was “Not yet well enough established to merit full membership”.[1][3]

According to The Lawyer, Lovells (now Hogan Lovells) and Norton Rose (now Norton Rose Fulbright), which had ambitions of expanding internationally, did not meet the criteria for the Silver Circle and were instead designated in an ‘internationalists’ bracket that also included DLA Piper, Clyde & Co, Simmons & Simmons and Denton Wilde Sapte.[1][3]

The Silver Circle in 2017[edit]

In 2017, The Lawyer argued the group of five firms that made up the original Silver Circle in 2005 had adopted different strategies. Three pursued international ambitions, while two remained UK-focused.[1][3] Ashurst, Herbert Smith Freehills and SJ Berwin each followed international expansion strategies, and, according The Lawyer, did not meet the criteria for continued membership of the Silver Circle.[1][3]

The Lawyer was also of the view that Berwin Leighton Paisner, who initially had the potential to be a full member of the Silver Circle, did not meet the criteria of the Silver Circle.[1][3]

In addition to Macfarlanes and Travers Smith, The Lawyer argued that Mishcon de Reya formed part of the Silver Circle.[1][3]

Relationship with the Magic Circle[edit]

The Silver Circle firms have a lower turnover than the members of the Magic Circle, but consistently have an average profits per equity partner (PEP) and average revenue per lawyer (RPL) far above the UK average [4][5][6] (and, in some instances, higher than members of the magic circle).

The term Silver Circle, however, is not intended to mark these firms as subservient to the Magic Circle.[1][3] Contrary to what the term Silver Circle may suggest, there is no Golden Circle.[7]

For the debate about Slaughter and May’s membership of the Magic Circle and the Silver Circle, see Magic Circle.

Related terms[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "The silver circle". 19 September 2017.
  2. ^ "One Essex Court is the 'go-to' set for litigation heavyweights". 14 December 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Simmons, Richard, "The long read: How the silver circle shattered". The Lawyer.
  4. ^ "Ashurst, Herbies ride out tough year; BLP, Macfarlanes, SJ Berwin succumb". The Lawyer. 14 July 2008. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
  5. ^ "Silver Circle". The Lawyer. 3 September 2007. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
  6. ^ Fletcher, Martin (28 August 2005). "'Silver circle' firms upset the legal order". London: The Times. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
  7. ^ "The silver circle - Chambers Student Guide". Chambers Student.
  8. ^ Beaton Research & Consulting (2012). An obituary for the term "Big 6" law firms in Australia Archived 2012-11-07 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  9. ^ "Elite 'red circle' firms Zhong Lun and Jun He plot merger as consolidation grips China legal market | The Lawyer | Legal News and Jobs | Advancing the business of law". Retrieved 9 April 2016.