Commercial firms: an introduction

Even if you know what practice area youre aiming for, its vital to choose a firm that you feel is right for you

Commercial firms: an introductionThere are a number of different types of law firm in the commercial arena, ranging from two-partner niche players to those with several hundred partners based in offices all around the world.

Every year The Lawyer produces a veritable tome, with more facts and figures about law firms than you can shake a stick at, in the shape of The Lawyer UK 100 Annual Report. The table on the right, which is an extract from the 2006 report, shows the sizes and financial performances of the UKs top 50 firms during the 2005-06 financial year. Click here if you want to see a copy of the report.

The phrase magic circle will come up a lot in the context of law firms, so it is worth noting from the outset that this has nothing to do with Derren Brown or his ilk. The magic circle is the group of firms considered to comprise the elite, bound together by their size and global reach. Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters comprise the magic circle and boast the four largest global turnovers. Some include Slaughter and May in the magic circle, but we exclude it because, although there is no denying that it an elite outfit, it lacks global presence.

You can get more information on all the major law firms by looking at their websites.

Structure of law firms
Law firms are structured as partnerships and should therefore not be referred to as companies. Most law firms are made up of equity partners (a partner at the top level of a partnership whose pay is made up entirely of profit) and salaried partners (a partner on the lower rung of the partnership ladder whose pay is made up of a salary plus a share of the years profit). Average profit per equity partner is essentially the average amount paid to each equity partner.