Magic Circle

No, different Magic Circle.

The leading firms of the United Kingdom, the so-called Magic Circle firms, have made significant inroads into the U.S. legal market. Over the years, they’ve hired a number of high-profile lawyers away from domestic law firms. They might not have conquered New York to the same degree that they’ve dominated many other markets they’ve entered, but they’ve certainly built up significant outposts here in Gotham.

In today’s notable lateral news, though, we see partners disappearing from one Magic Circle firm and reappearing at… another Magic Circle firm. Who are the lawyers in question, and where are they going?

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* Chief Justice John Roberts might “enjoy that he’s being criticized,” but that’s probably because he’ll get the chance to show his true conservative colors this fall when issues like affirmative action and same-sex marriage are before SCOTUS. [Reuters]

* Dewey know why this failed firm thinks a bankruptcy judge is going to allow it to hand out $700K in “morale” bonuses? You better believe that Judge Martin Glenn is going to tell D&L where it can (indicate). [Bankruptcy Beat / Wall Street Journal]

* It seems like attorneys at Freshfields may actually need to get some sleep, because it was the sole Magic Circle firm to report a decline in in revenue and profitability in its latest financial disclosure statements. [Financial Times (reg. req.)]

* Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. didn’t do George Zimmerman any favors when he set his bond at $1M. Watch how quickly the defense fund Zimmerman concealed from the court disappears as he struggles to post bail. [CNN]

* Whatever it takes (to count you as employed): 76% of law schools report that they’ve now changed their curriculum to include more practical skills courses in light of the dismal job market. [National Law Journal]

* Texas Christian University is expanding its graduate programs, but a law school isn’t necessarily in the works, because TCU is only interested in “programs that promote employability.” Well, sh*t, y’all. [TCU 360]

From time to time we have the opportunity to talk about how massively unhealthy Biglaw jobs can be. Lawyers don’t get enough sleep. They take drugs to stay awake. Sometimes they even have panic attacks when they find themselves back at work right after a holiday.

Work/Life balance is not something they teach in law school.

That’s a reality that novelist Jonathan Lee knows all too well. The author of the critically acclaimed Who is Mr Satoshi? used to be a lawyer with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in the U.K.

Now, Lee is writing on the Huffington Post, and he’s sharing some of the details from his “Magic Circle” lifestyle to make a point about professional environments that are damaging to your health.

Lee might be fighting the good fight, but working a Biglaw job is kind of like smoking cigarettes: everybody who has one knows it’s bad for them, but they just don’t care at the moment….

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Deidre Dare aka Deidre Clark

The high-powered international law firm of Allen & Overy is a member of the Magic Circle. So why can’t they make Deidre Dare disappear?

As longtime readers will recall, Deidre Dare (real name: Deidre Clark) was a Columbia Law School graduate who worked in the Moscow office of Allen & Overy. Everything was going swimmingly, until Clark decided to write some erotic fiction on the side — erotic fiction that may have been based in part on Clark’s experiences working as an expat in Russia. One thing led to another, and Clark’s employment at A&O was terminated.

Clark sued the firm in London, alleging her firing was improper; that suit was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. She then sued in New York, making claims for sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, wrongful termination, and retaliation, among other claims.

When we interviewed her last year, Clark (a member of the New York bar) sounded confident about her chances of success in the Big Apple: “I think NY will take jurisdiction. And thank God for that.”

So, was Clark correct? Will her suit be moving forward in New York?

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Be careful what you write when you’re young and idealistic.

In 2003, David Wolfe, a lawyer who works alongside Cherie Blair at top London human rights shop Matrix Chambers, decided he was unhappy with the way the British legal hierarchy works. So he co-signed an open letter criticising the Queen’s Counsel (QC) system –- a process that sees a handful of barristers (British trial lawyers) promoted to the elite QC rank each year, enabling them to charge clients more money. “The QC system cannot be justified as being in the public interest or promoting competition,” the letter stated.

Nine years on, and last week Wolfe found himself made up to QC — an honour which, despite the name, involves no input from the Queen or her family members. He didn’t decline. Indeed, all QCs have to actively apply in order to gain the title. Unfortunately for Wolfe, someone mentioned his youthful letter to RollOnFriday, a widely read U.K. legal blog.

When contacted about the letter, Wolfe responded….

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What happens when you put thirty American lawyers in a London pub where the drinks are free for the evening? Well, let’s just say it’s rather different to what happens when thirty British lawyers are assembled in equivalent conditions.

The attendees at last week’s inaugural Benedict Arnold Society meeting for young and young-ish American lawyers in the United Kingdom, held at the Witness Box pub in the heart of London’s legal district, were impeccably behaved. No one collapsed, vomited or — in spite of my continual prying for insider information — gave away a single secret about their firms. In fact, I think I was the only one there who was drunk.

Still, my memories of at least the first part of the evening remain. What stood out was how nicely many of the assembled Yank expats had done by coming to London — be it because they had saved money on legal education costs, were enjoying heightened status due to their willingness to travel, or were appreciating the health-inducing lighter U.K. workloads.

Several had undertaken their legal studies in the U.K., thus circumventing the enormous fees charged by U.S. law schools….

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“Oh, What a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive,” said Judge Guy Anthony, quoting Sir Walter Scott’s poem Marmion, as he sentenced British Biglaw attorney Francis Bridgeman to 12 months in prison on Friday. The former Allen & Overy (A&O) and Macfarlanes partner, who had already had his membership of the latter firm’s limited liability partnership terminated, then collapsed in the dock.

Until recently, Bridgeman, 43, was just another hotshot Biglaw equity partner enjoying a millionaire’s life-style. Educated at Oxford University, he joined Magic Circle firm A&O in the early 1990s and rose through the ranks so quickly that he made partner in 2000, aged just 32. Having got married, he bought a big house in the countryside outside London and became a governor at a local school. Three years ago, he capitalised on his success by moving to boutique financial law firm Macfarlanes, where profit per equity partner is still high for U.K. standards (last year it came in at £752,000) but the hours and stress are generally considered less than at the likes of A&O.

Then, on April 6 2010, everything changed for Bridgeman, in the most unexpected and surreal way….

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“I thought Freshfields [Bruckhaus Deringer] was a supermarket when I got here,” says Kirsty Grant, a fourth-year associate in the London office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. Happily, Grant — a fast-learner who got through law school in L.A. while working full-time during the day — quickly figured out that the Anglo-German law firm, a member of the Magic Circle, wasn’t the place to fulfill her grocery needs.

The cultural assimilation enjoyed by the UCLA and Loyola graduate since she arrived in London last March hasn’t stopped there. “At first I couldn’t believe the drinking culture here,” she recalls. “The first Friday after work that I went to the pub, I thought, ‘I haven’t had any food; I can’t do this.’ And then the London lawyers went on until 5 a.m. I just don’t have the liver for it, but it shocks me less now.”

Not that Grant, 33, has oceans of spare cash to splash on boozy nights out. How do her finances as an American abroad compare to those of her Biglaw counterparts back home?

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* “It seems no one can use dirty words, except Steven Spielberg.” Well, sh*t, I’ll be damned. Is Elena Kagan going to be the voice of reason in the Supreme Court’s FCC profanity case? [Los Angeles Times]

* Ken Cuccinelli filed an emergency motion to get Virginia’s primary ballots printed. You can’t wait three days for Perry’s hearing? It’s on Friday the 13th. You know how that’s going to go. [Bloomberg]

* The Tenth Circuit upheld a ruling to block an Oklahoma law barring the consideration of Sharia law in court decisions. If this pisses you off, go and watch Homeland. You’ll feel better. [MSNBC]

* Dewey want to join the Magic Circle? Bloody hell, of course! Clifford Chance has snagged two mergers and acquisitions partners from Dewey & LeBoeuf. [DealBook / New York Times]

* What will an LL.M. get you in today’s job market? Not a whole lot. And if you’re counting that extra year of loan debt as something of value, then you’re just a masochist. [National Law Journal]

* Heather Peters, the former lawyer suing Honda in small claims court, may be SOL because of a SOL issue. Stay tuned for the results at her second hearing later this month. [Huffington Post]

A few months ago, one of the public relations staff at Linklaters invited me to have lunch with him in the firm’s canteen. Now, I know that if I was a client, or even a journalist of greater rank, my PR acquaintance would have probably deemed me worthy of a trip to a restaurant on the expenses account. But, hey, times are tough, so I didn’t hold it against him. And in any case, I was curious to see what a Biglaw canteen looked like.

To my surprise, it looked a lot like a school canteen. A super-deluxe school canteen, you understand, with all sorts of fancy food options, and tasteful decor, and wholesome-looking — if oddly mature — students. Having finished my generous portion of chicken curry, side salad and smoothie, I relaxed back in my chair and, looking around me, wondered how those Linklaters people stayed so slim. Then I remembered the on-site gym I’d read about somewhere, which, I assume, nestles alongside the on-site doctor, dentist, physiotherapist and dry-cleaners, deep within Linklaters’ lovely womb-like central London offices.

In that moment, I wanted to never leave. It all just felt so… safe. But was it?

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(Layoffs at Linklaters, at the partner level.)

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