Women Lawyers Need to Know about The Magic Circle

From time to time you hear the term “Magic Circle Firm,” and you start to think J.K. Rowling or The Chronicles of Narnia.  Nice try, but wrong.  So, it probably would be a good idea for you to know what it really means.  For those of you who already know, bravo.  You are way ahead of me at your age.

However, before I help you get smart, I have a confession to make.  When I first heard about “Magic Circle Firms,” I didn’t have a clue — and I probably should have.  And anyone who knows me also knows that I do not like feeling stupid.  So, I dove into a rash of research to make myself feel better.  Here is what I discovered about The Magic Circle and how that term relates to the law profession.

The Magic Circle refers to law firms in the UK, so it seems appropriate that we start with the Oxford English Dictionary.  The OED defines the term “magic circle” as “[a] small group of people privileged to receive confidential information or make important decisions.”

When applied to the profession of law in the UK, “The Magic Circle” is generally viewed to comprise between three and five prestigious law firms.  The law firms generally described by commentators as comprising the Magic Circle are Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters.

Recently, UK law firms, including Magic Circle firms, have experienced increased competition from US law firms both domestically (from US law firms with a UK presence) and internationally.  In 2013, The Lawyer argued that the term Magic Circle would lose its relevance, becoming “outmoded”. “It will remain an easy shorthand to denote the UK-heritage firms with the biggest revenues, the most international work and which consistently outperform the rest of the [UK] market on profitability.” It was argued that by 2023 global law firms will rather be split between the Global Elite law firms, International Business law firms and Super Boutique law firms.  Here are how those descriptions break down.

The Global Elite law firms comprise Allen & Overy, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Latham & Watkins, Linklaters, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Sullivan & Cromwell, Kirkland & Ellis and Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

The International Business law firms comprise Clifford Chance, Ashurst, Norton Rose Fulbright, Hogan Lovells, DLA Piper, Jones Day, Baker & McKenzie, White & Case, Herbert Smith Freehills, King & Wood Mallesons and Sidley Austin.

The Super Boutique law firms comprise Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Slaughter and May, Debevoise & Plimpton and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Now you know — at least until it all changes again.  Don’t forget to look back on this in 2023 to see if The Lawyer was right in its prediction.  Yes, put it on your To Do List — because, of course, as a young lawyer, you have nothing else to do!

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Thought For The Day: He who plants kindness gathers love. SAINT BASIL THE GREAT

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Thought For The Day: The cure for anything is salt water – tears, sweat, or the sea. ISAK DINESEN

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The Facebook Debacle: Has”Lean In” Gone Too Far?

Money and power strikes again.  Recent revelations point to the fact that the social media company Facebook knew that YOUR information was being compromised and used without your permission for purposes related to influencing elections — like maybe the 2016 American presidential election — and that it did little to nothing to remedy the situation until it was called out by a whistleblower earlier this week.  Five days after this news hit the “wire,” Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, FINALLY spoke out, and to date, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has made no public statement.

Yes, this is the same Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote the book Lean In, which became a sensation partially because of her access to the Facebook marketing platform.   The theme of Lean In, you will recall, is that women need to aggressively pursue their businesses in order to climb the corporate ladder and take their rightful places in the C suites of business.  Young women lawyers across American and the world embraced the Lean In concepts without much consideration of the costs of that strategy.  Getting to the corner office was the goal.

It appears we are seeing some of the costs of “leaning in.”  Facebook leaned in and grew exponentially between 2004, when it was founded, and today, when it is one of the most financially successful businesses in the world.  It didn’t get that successful and that big by posting your messages on your FB page.  It got that successful and that big by selling the data gleaned from your FB pages and posts.  Yes, selling it, without having effective controls on how that data was used.  Those are potentially big costs to your privacy and big costs to our national security.

And, there also is a big cost to Facebook as the reaction of abandoning FB accounts grows in response to this information.  Mark Zuckerberg reportedly lost $9 billion in just a few days over these revelations and as Facebook stock prices fell.  That’s right.  “B” as in “billion. ” But, as one of the richest people in the world, he can afford it.  As a nation, we cannot.

Does this sound like “leaning in” for money and power with little regard for the consequences?   Sounds that way to me — which is why I have been writing and speaking for years about a cautionary approach to the messages of  Lean In.

Caveat emptor.

And, yes, I recognize the irony of posting this on my Best Friends at the Bar FB account.  It is the informed risk I take to bring you valuable information.


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What, Dear Women Lawyers, is Wrong with USNWR Rankings?

The US News and World Report 2019 rankings of law schools is out.  See it here.  Yes, it is still early in 2018.  But, as you will read, there are some folks who benefit big time each year from this early information.

If you are a Pepperdine Law graduate, you are not going to like the new rankings.  If you are a graduate of a lot of other law schools, you may not like them either, but probably a little less than the Pepperdine folks.  At least you may see your school ranked.

My problem with the USNWR list has less to do with where my school ranks than with why we allow a non-legal entity like the US News and World Report to dictate something so important to our profession.  Every year the Report comes out with its rankings — based on a list of criteria, some of which is, frankly, questionable — and top-ranked law schools across the country start to genuflect to their high positions and to devise the next round of teases to attract top students to their hallowed halls to maintain those high rankings for the following year.

In other words, the dance is now on.  Top college and university students will be courted by top law schools in a contest to land the ones that will make the entering class statistics look the best and impress the Report for yet another year.  Part of the negotiations to snag those top students will be merit-based scholarships — often full rides — that will attract the best talent.

So, what is wrong with that, you say?  Nothing if you are the law school applicant who gets the biggest merit scholarship or if yours is the law school that maintains its prestigious ranking.

But, the results of that process benefit very few and do it on the backs of the rest of the law school student bodies across the country.  Someone has to pay for all of the tuition that is “forgiven” by the law school in the form of scholarship money, right?  And who do you think that is?  Bingo.  Law schools typically recoup that deficit by raising tuition for the rest of their students — the not so worthy.  And, to add insult to injury …

When tuitions go up, student loan debt goes up as well.  As you all know, student loan debt has reached crisis dimensions in this country.  The average cost of attending law school is somewhere in the range of $150K to $200K, and most law students are financing these expensive educations through debt.

So, why do we allow this to go on?  Why do we allow this beauty contest among elite law schools to adversely affect the future of thousands of law school graduates each year?  Is it to improve the bottom line of USNWR and its parent company for some unapparent reason?  Is it to continue to keep the alumni of the highest ranked law schools happy so that they will continue to be generous in their endowments?  Frankly, I don’t care — and my law school is one of those that receives a very high ranking each year. 

What I do care about is reducing the cost of law school and student loan debt.  That is where we should be putting our energy — not in continuing to support a system of rankings that harms the majority of students and discourages many very qualified and talented students, who cannot assume high debt, from even applying to law school. 

As a profession, we need to get smart about our objectives.








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Thought For The Day: Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better. BILL BRADLEY

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Thought For The Day: It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. HARRY POTTER (J.K. ROWLING)

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Women Lawyers and the Motherhood Penalty

Are you familiar with the “motherhood penalty?”  Well, you should be. 

According to an article published earlier this week, the “motherhood penalty” is identified in a recent study as one of the reasons why women make 81 cents of every dollar a man makes.  When, in fact, research also shows that having children raises wages for men, even correcting for the number of hours they work.

The gap between what mothers earn and what childless women and males earn is significant, and the gap between mothers and childless women has not narrowed since the 1980’s — even though the share of working mothers with young children has risen from 47% in 1975 to 70% in 2015.  The reasons cited for such slow progress are the lack of both paid parental leave and subsidized childcare.   

Sounds unfair, right?  But, maybe you think that it does not happen that way in the law profession.  Think again.  The example of a law firm was specifically cited in the article. 

 “You’re a female associate. Should you be considered for partnership at the end of your seven years, when you took nine months off?” 

The study came out of the University of Massachusetts and draws on research conducted by the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics.  That research tracked approximately 18,000 individuals from 5,000 families since the study began in 1968. 

And, yes, it is against the law to punish an employee for having family responsibilities.  But, employers know what to say and how to say it to remain within the law.  And although cases alleging discrimination based on family responsibilities have “skyrocketed” in recent years, the total number of cases still remains small, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lacks funds to proactively police the issue.

Sad but true.




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