American law firms in London have been making headlines more and more in recent years. For an aspiring solicitor, the pros of an elite US law firm are undoubtedly strong – but there are cons, too.

Elite US Law Firms in the UK

The elite US law firms referred to in this article are the loosely defined collection of top-tier American law firms who have set up shop in the UK (almost always in London). These firms are, put simply, very large and very profitable.

The Magic Circle has long been the dominant force leading the way in the British legal industry, before the US law firms sought to expand into their territory around the 1990s. In recent years, they’ve found real success through an incredibly successful business model – lean, small teams of high-quality lawyers working long hours for a very high pay.

They train relatively few of their own staff (thus saving money in the process), and often seek to poach talent from elsewhere (usually Magic Circle) around the NQ level. They’ve also managed to increase their revenue by prioritising a small number of very profitable practice areas – mostly financial ones, and especially private equity.

Meet the firms

It must be noted that the elite US law firms, unlike the Magic Circle or Silver Circle, are not a strictly defined (or even construed) group of, say, 5, 6, or 7 firms. Instead, there are around 100 US players active in London. This includes some of the more difficult to categorise US-UK merger firms, such as Hogan Lovells, although this article will focus primarily on US-headquartered firms with a UK office. This section discusses some of the most well established and profitable US law firms in London. 

Kirkland & Ellis

The archetypal elite US law firm – Kirkland & Ellis expanded into London in the 1990s, and its recent growth can be described simply as meteoric, now claiming the highest revenue of any US firm in London, and also being the largest law firm in the world by revenue altogether.

Profit per equity partner has recently touched the £6 million mark. NQ salaries sit at a hefty £170,000, with perks including a personal assistant-style ‘Concierge’ service and their lawyers working on some of the top deals around. Equally, you’re looking at a culture which has been rumoured to be incredibly competitive, intense and high-pressured. And then there’s the hours – with an average reported finish time of around midnight and some weekend work often expected too. 

Latham & Watkins

Latham & Watkins hail from Los Angeles, and their rise to stardom in London has been incredible. It’s one of the top law firms in the world for profit per equity partner (sitting around the £5 million mark), and has managed to maintain its growth despite hiring relatively few layers. Pay is similar to Kirkland – around £170,000 at NQ level.

The work is very financially focused, and attracts some of the top clients in the world. Training, as with most US firms, is relatively sparse, with a go-getter attitude very much needed – although it offers more training contracts per year (24) than many comparable elite US firms.

White & Case

White & Case are a well-known US outfit with some exceptional deals under their belt – including one last year worth over £7 billion. They do have obvious strengths in areas like private equity, but their quality of work in areas such as litigation is also worth noting.

They also offer an unusually high number of training contracts – around 50 each year (closer to Magic Circle counterparts than other US competitors). However, salaries are also lower than most of their US competitors – currently sitting around £140,000. One particular bonus is the genuinely international nature of the firm, which promises all trainees an international secondment.


A top paying firm with an NQ salary currently sitting at around £170,000), Skadden is also known for its lavish perks, including a London HQ with a wellbeing centre and a climbing wall. Teams are very lean and hours are gruelling, but this can also mean very stimulating work for more junior lawyers.

Training is very hands-on, despite some apparent efforts to create a more structured training program. Client work is extremely impressive, ranging from advising on Microsoft’s recent planned takeover of Activision-Blizzard to advising Elon Musk on his purchase of Twitter.

Weil Gotshal & Manges

Weil Gotshal & Manges is known for its strong private equity and banking practices, and its global revenue has recently soared to over £1 billion. The office is exceptionally well-liked, the salaries are incredibly high (currently £165,000 for newly qualified lawyers), and junior lawyers are expected to seek out their own work regularly. Average finish times are considered more reasonable than other firms, but you’re still not expecting to clock out much before 9 or 10pm according to most reports.

Akin Gump

The highest paying outfit in the City – Akin salaries for newly qualified lawyers recently reached an extraordinary £179,000. It’s also very small in regards to trainee intake, offering less than 10 training contracts a year. Teams are lean and junior lawyers receive a lot of responsibility.

The firm has recently been successful in attracting top Partners from Magic Circle firms, and has developed an especially strong practice in areas such as restructuring. They share an impressive Spitalfields office with Allen & Overy. Average finish times are certainly not easy, but it’s been suggested that they’re slightly more reasonable than other elite US firms.

Pros of Working At An Elite US Law Firm


It’s quite simply the most obvious advantage of working at an elite US law firm in London – the salary. While trainees are paid relatively similar amounts to those at comparable British law firms (for example Allen & Overy’s £50,000 first-year trainee salary compared to Sidley Austin’s £55,000), the gap widens massively at the NQ stage.

While a newly qualified solicitor at the best-paying Magic Circle firms will be picking up a salary around £100,000-£120,000, the same lawyers at Akin Gump will be earning a staggering £179,000. These numbers are, of course, likely to change over time. However, US firms continuing to pay far more is an inevitable reality due to the salary gap being an integral component of the overall business plans of American firms in London.

Career Progression

It’s not just that you get paid more at each step of the ladder in the elite US firm system – the steps of those ladders are also closer together. While some Magic Circle firms are known for having incredibly long paths to becoming partners, for example, the elite US firms usually promise the shortest tracks to equity partnership in the City. In 2021, Kirkland & Ellis publicly lowered theirs to just 9 years. Many London-based lawyers working at US firms therefore feel that reaching partnership is more achievable in their workplaces than elsewhere in the City. 

Quality of Work

There’s no doubt about it – elite US firms bring in some of the most profitable and high-quality work in the City. There are plenty of complex tasks to go around, and these projects are often worth well into the billions (think front-page Financial Times deals). This offers young lawyers an excellent environment in which to rapidly improve their craft, whilst developing your CV to the point of unrivalled excellency.

Cons of Working At Top US Law Firms

Work-Life Balance

Poor work-life balance is the number one reason that most prospective lawyers who avoid applying to the elite US firms do so. The expected working hours at any City law firm (think Magic Circle, for example) are known to be tough, but US law firms are known for having the latest finishing times of any firm in the industry. All-nighters are not uncommon, and employee work is often expected to leak somewhat into the weekends. 


This is an issue which is certainly fuelled largely by the aforementioned demands that these firms put on employees. While culture certainly varies between firms, the US firms are known on the whole, even by City law firm standards, for being very intense places to work.

Some people will thrive on this atmosphere of intensity and high standards, while others perceive a scramble to the top of the corporate ladder that they want no part in. While some may find elite US firms less welcoming for starting a career, they often offer exceptional opportunities for professional growth and development.

Limited Practice Areas

These elite US firms tend to derive a large amount of their profits from a relatively limited number of practice areas – especially ones with a financial or banking background. US firms have firmly established themselves as the go-to destinations for private equity work, for example.

If you’re more interested in more niche areas of practice (for example Intellectual Property), or something less directly financial such as Public Law, then elite US firms may not provide you with the best options.

Geographical Priorities

If you’re working at the London office of an American firm, you need to be aware that you are an auxiliary component to the business as a whole. Despite their undisputed strength in London, most US firms still place the majority of their time, effort, and money on their headquarters back home. This also means that you need to ensure your firm has a long-term vision for their UK expansion.

A Divisive Point: Independence

This is one point which can’t be easily separated into a pro or con, since it depends so much on the personal preferences of the aspiring lawyer. Elite US law firms generally take on a much smaller cohort than comparable Magic Circle firms, for instance – where the latter might offer 90-100 training contracts per year, top US firms are usually offering somewhere between 10 and 20.

The business model of elite US firms in London relies somewhat upon poaching talent from other firms at NQ level, and so they take on a relatively small number as trainees. The smaller cohorts mean that there’s a lot more work to be done, and thus naturally longer hours, but also creates another point worth considering – smaller teams.

Elite US firm work is often consequently described as relatively solitary, requiring more of a go-getter attitude based on individual ambition rather than being based on large-scale teamwork. This will suit some people well, whilst equally turning others away.


In short, the elite US law firms in London are a collection of comparably large and profitable American firms who have expanded into the City with a bold offering for aspiring lawyers. Incredibly long hours and an intense, relatively solitary culture stand alongside outrageously high salaries and the shortest track to partnership around.

Whether it’s worth it for any aspiring lawyer ultimately comes down to their own personal preferences. What is clear, however, is that the elite US firms are doing very well in London, and that this continued growth will need plenty more of the finest legal talent to help it along the way.


Loading More Content