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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.
The same firms are also increasingly advising on the laws of onshore financial centres, especially Ireland and Luxembourg.
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.[a]
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*|
|Walkers||269||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Dubai, Hong Kong, London||Cayman 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 "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.