Offshore magic circle
The offshore magic circle is the set of the largest multi-jurisdictional law firms who specialise in offshore financial centres, especially the laws of the British Overseas Territories of Bermuda, Cayman Islands, and British Virgin Islands, and the Crown dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey.
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The term is a derivation of the widely-recognised London 'magic circle' of top law firms, and is widely used in the offshore legal industry. The term has also become used to describe the offshore legal industry in a more pejorative sense (e.g. when the general media reports on Paradise Papers–type offshore financial scandals), and is therefore more sparingly used, or found, in major legal publications (e.g. Legal Business).
There is no consensus definition over which firms belong in the offshore magic circle. A 2008 article in the publication Legal Business (Issue 181, Offshore Review, February 2008) suggested a list, which has been repeated by others, and is simply the top 10 offshore law firms, but excluding Gibraltar–specialist Hassans.
- Maples and Calder is the largest offshore law firm by number of lawyers.
- Head offices of Harney Westwood & Riegels.
- Walkers' head office in the Cayman Islands
In the wider legal community, it has been suggested that the 'magic circle' label for offshore firms is self-promoting. Not only does the group suggested by Legal Business seem large (with nine firms, as opposed to the five firms in the original London magic circle), but it also appears to contain a fairly high percentage of all the specialist offshore law firms, including almost all the significant Channel Islands firms.
The major offshore firms do not use the 'magic circle' terminology. Edward Fennell, a legal columnist for The Times, has expressed dim views of law firms designating themselves as part of an offshore magic circle. However, the concept of an offshore magic circle is actively promoted by legal recruitment consultants who hope to persuade London lawyers to spend a few years working in an offshore jurisdiction.
The Chambers legal directory in its 2008 edition, recognised the move towards multi-jurisdictional specialist offshore firms, and included a new ranking for global offshore specialist firms, rather than by jurisdiction. Arguably this was the first defined "offshore magic circle", although the directory did not use the term.
That Chambers list included the same names as the list produced by "Legal Business" in its 2008 Offshore Review article. In addition, Chambers stated that single-jurisdiction offshore specialist firms (e.g. Hassans), no matter how good, would not be considered in this new Global – Offshore category.
The Lawyer magazine produces a list of the top twenty offshore law firms by number of partners, published each February.
The following table sets out the offshore jurisdictions in which the principal multi-jurisdictional offshore firms practise law (correct as of March 2020. The table does not list 'sales' offices, where the firms do not practise the local law (typically, they will have an office in London, Zurich, and/or other large onshore centres, but will not practise English or Swiss law). However, Ireland and Luxembourg are included in this table, as several firms have moved into practising law in those two "midshore" jurisdictions, especially with regards funds, where they compete with large onshore firms like Matheson.
|Firm||Lawyers (2018)||Bermuda||BVI||Cayman||Ireland||Guernsey||Jersey||Mauritius||Luxembourg||Other||"Home" jurisdiction|
|Appleby||184||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Hong Kong, Isle of Man, Seychelles||Bermuda|
|Carey Olsen||210||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Hong Kong||Channel Islands*|
|Harneys||162||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Anguilla, Cyprus, Hong Kong||British Virgin Islands|
|Maples||303||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Hong Kong, Dubai||Cayman Islands|
|Mourant Ozannes||238||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Hong Kong||Channel Islands*|
* Carey Olsen was formed by the merger of two roughly equivalent sized firms from Jersey and Guernsey. Mourant Ozannes was formed by a merger of firms from Jersey, Guernsey and the Cayman Islands.
- The odd one out is offshore law firm Hassans, a Gibraltar-based law firm which ranks 9th in terms of total lawyer numbers, one place ahead of 10th ranked Bedell, however, Hassan's is not a "multi-jurisdictional" offshore law firm.
- "'Offshore magic circle' law firms fear Paradise Papers fallout". Financial Times. 17 November 2017.
- Madison Marraige (10 November 2017). "Offshore Magic Circle law firms fear Paradise Papers fallout". Financial Times.
The “offshore magic circle”, a term given to the top firms based in the Caribbean and the Channel Islands that specialise in helping clients move money to low-tax countries, include Ogier, Mourant Ozannes, Walkers, and Maples and Calder, as well as Appleby.
- "Race to the top". CML Recruitment. 10 March 2010.
- "Offshore law firms in Caribbean uprooted in aftermath of Hurricane Irma". LegalWeek. 12 September 2017.
- "Appleby, the offshore magic circle firm". BBC News. 5 November 2017.
- "Appleby, the offshore law firm with a record of compliance failures". Irish Times. November 2017.
- "Why we are shining a light on the world of tax havens again". The Guardian. 5 November 2017.
- "Paradise Papers leak reveals secrets of the world elite's hidden wealth". The Guardian. 5 November 2017.
- "What is the Offshore Magic Circle?". The Times. 6 November 2017.
- "Offshore Magic Circle : In Their Own Words". Hamilton Recruitment. 17 January 2017.
- "The Offshore Top 30 2018: The rankings". The Lawyer. 30 April 2018. Archived from the original on 14 November 2019.
- "The Times & The Sunday Times". Timesonline.co.uk. 16 April 2016.
- "Offshore – Global–Wide". Chambersandpartners.com. Retrieved 2016-04-16.
- "Global Guide OFFSHORE — GLOBAL-WIDE". Chambersandpartners.com. 2018.
- "Offshore | The Lawyer | Legal News and Jobs | Advancing the business of law". The Lawyer. Archived from the original on 2013-01-19. Retrieved 2016-04-16.
- "Taylors in association with Walkers". Walkers. Archived from the original on 10 January 2017. Retrieved 21 September 2016.