Big 4 or Magic Circle firm


Which would you choose and why?


I will choose PWC only, am confused I am an international student, I have an offer from Mazar’s Dubai office. If PWC offered me before my joining (Just submitted my application on Monday night for April-09) date (01/10/2008), I will give up my offer from Mazar’s. Other wise will not miss the chance for position (e.g. in Big 4) which I have to secure.


[[Big 4]] and [[Magic Circle]] aren’t the same. One’s for [[accountancy & professional services]] and the other is for [[law]].


I know they’re different. I just wondered if people were open to career choice and it was with one of the two type of firms, which would they choose?


I think this comes down very much to personal preference - not only short, but also long term.

Becoming an accountant now and spending three years training for an [[ACA]] or [[ACCA]] qualification may seem like hell to some, but these qualifications are very powerful on a [[CV]] and give a level of experience that many trained accountants can use to become top level managers and CEO’s, etc of major companies.

Two year’s of a legal [[Training Contract]] may also seem like hell, but the salaries are quite fantastic, and qualified lawyers can move in to many different types of job and company - particularly the political spectrum (e.g. Tony Blair and William Haig).

Although the subject matter will be different, there are many siilarities between working at [[big 4]] and [[magic circle]] - your first 2/3 years at either will offer great training, great experience (particularly for the old [[CV]], opportunities to travel and work abroad and great pay (especially in law!) Big 4 - approx 25k starting / Magic Cirlce - approx 40k starting.

These firms are the best in their field and working at any of them will offer a lifestyle you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere. Unfortunately, high salaries, great offices and international travel mean you’re going to have to work, hard. Late nights and early mornings should be expected at both Big 4 and MC.

The choice is really what you want to do in the future:
-Want to be an accountant - go to big 4. Want to manage a large company - go to big 4.
-Want to be a lawyer - go to magic circle. Want to go in to politics - go to magic cirlce.

Personally, I’d pick Magic Cirlce. I hate working with numbers for a start and much prefer words and reading! …I’m instantly attracted to the massive salaries at Magic Circle firms too, and Law firms seem to have much better opportunities for travel (in my opinion) than accountancy firms. the work trainees do at law firms also seems much more interesting than the number crunching at accountancy firms!

The Big 4 also have a bit of a reputation for being quite stuffy and conformist - if you don’t fit into their ‘mould’ you might not have much fun there! The reputation of the Magic Cirlce firms - especially [[Slaughter and May]] - is different. Whilst they may be very traditional and old fashioned in some ways, they do seem to embrace intelligence and new thinking, which is more attractive to me personally.

What would you / have you chosen Jungle Boogie?


Personally, I picked the big 4 and I’d pick it again. But its just a personal choice. I’d rather learn about financial stuff and not legal stuff. It depends really where you want to end up - if you want to working in finance or investment banking, Big 4 is for you. If you want a legal related job, well I guess that’d be [[magic circle]].

If you were to introduce a new category, [[bulge bracket]] investment banks, that changes everything. If I could go back and re-apply, I’d apply for investment banking over big 4 any day. If you’re going to be miserable and work long hours, you might as well get paid for it.


You stand a much better chance of getting a job at an Investment Bank with the accountancy training behind you. Same goes for consulting firms - a friend of mine who works for a large consulting firm believes that if he had trained at a Big 4 firm as an accountant, and then switched to consulting, he’d be able to progress further faster, in terms of promotion/salary.

However, doing three years accountancy training as an entry route to consulting or IB is a very time intensive process!


If it is all about IF’s then I would prefer to do some Equity Research at bulge bracket IBs. Those guys’ working day starts as early as 5 am and might end as late as midnight depending on the workload. I like working on my own and research is something that allows you learn more as you browse the industries. It might as well let you start thinking about going into private equity at a later stage of your career. Well, the rest is a chain of success stories. I will probably end up with BIG4 to get qualified then will see…


Thanks for the insight! I’ve actually got the choice of either a magic circle firm or big four (I know they’re very different) but my degree is in science and I just wanted a job that was different from my degree. Missed the Milkround for the IBs though…never bothered applying due to ‘horror stories’ of late working hours, now, I’m thinking maybe I should have just to have even more choice.

Just being shallow now. Pay-wise, which would pay better, long term and short term?


‘’ “I would prefer to do some Equity Research at bulge bracket IBs. Those guys’ working day starts as early as 5 am and might end as late as midnight depending on the workload.” ‘’

‘’‘Londonbloke’’’ - you want to work 5am - midnight?! Factor in a one hour commute each way and you’re left with a sleep/eat/recover time of 3 hours! …unless you’re planning to sleep at your desk?!

‘’‘Jungle-Boogie’’’ - Equally bad horror stories of lawyers and accountants working very very late. At Magic Cirlce firms its common to work all day and then right through the night if an urgent legal matter needs attention!

You can find some details of starting salaries at both MC and B4 firms on their wiki profiles. Generally speaking though:

‘’‘Starting salaries’’’ - at [[Big 4]] firms are around £25,000, (and I think this is without bonus…?). Starting salaries at Magic Cirlce firms is around £40,000 + a 3-4% bonus.

‘’‘After qualifying’’’ - After your ‘‘three’’ years of Acca/Aca accountancy training you’d be looking at a base of around 50k. After only ‘‘two’’ years of legal training you’d be looking at 60k+ and bonus at a top MC firm.

‘’‘Long term’’’ …not so sure, anyone else know general salaries after 10 years / for partners? I do know that the highest paid partners in the city actually work at Deloitte, not in law or accounting, but actually consulting.


I certainly like doing equity research and issuing recommendations and learning a lot but not to start my work from early morning before sun rises. I won’t be able to live my private life at all. My fiancee wants to work as a doctor and I am sure doctors do not have a good social life as well :). I imagine we will be at home for just 3 hours and again do not see each other :). No that’s not life.

I respect those geeks at IBs and dream about working there but I am not willing to sacrifice my life for money IBs pay. :slight_smile: Accounting is easier to do. That’s why I am doing MSc in Accounting and Finance.


First time poster so be gentle…

MC Firms - Make you work very hard. They don’t have ca. 1800 annual billable hours for nothing. Many people leave the MC on qualification and work for a smaller firm. It is very difficult to reach partnership at an MC firm (At S and M nearly impossible).

Big 4 (In London offices) - Your working hours will be less than that at an MC firm. However, when you factor in your studying for the ACA exams in the first three years there will be little difference.

IB - Another level again for working hours. We are talking 100 hour weeks as standard. One of the best jobs in IB for working hours is being a trader. They typically work 7AM-7PM (if you are an experienced trader, for a junior trader you will work longer as it takes you longer to do things).

I was wondering if people could answer some of my questions?

  1. Does working at a Big 4 firm in a larger regional office e.g Bristol or Manchester etc. have shorter working hours than working in London? I think this would be true but would like some clarification with regards to numbers.
  2. Are the hours in Corporate Tax shorter than those in Audit?
  3. How likely is it to work your way up from a trainee at a regional office to a partner at a regional office? Do most partners at the regional offices train and progress in London before moving out to the regional offices later on in their career?

Hello and welcome. Thanks for posting :slight_smile:

To my knowledge… don’t think there is much difference between working hours at regional offices and offices in London. Face time and working late are all institutionalised characteristics of being a [[Big 4]] accountant, no matter where abouts in the country you may be!

…your commute will probably be less though!

…not so sure on questions 2 + 3 …Chrism will be able to give you a good answer when he pops by though :slight_smile:


Hours are long but not ridiculous. The only time hours are really long in Big 4 is audit busy season (Jan-March), or if you do any kind of consultancy work.

You will have to spend a lot of time studying if you want to do [[ACA]] training- it’s hard, social life breaking work. Remember, these firms will pay you and train you well, but they expect to get what they paid for. Somebody who’s always looking at the watch isn’t really what they’re after.


25K starting salary in Big 4 - it is in London?
Cause I have got an offer for Manchester , and it is only £20600 :frowning:


25k is the starting salary for London.

Your salary may be less in Manchester, but remember:

Manchester: Average price £2.50
London: Average price £3.75

Manchester: Average price £75/week
London: Average price £130/week

You will be MUCH better off living in Manchester!


I’m studying for the ACA in a big4 firm in London, working in corporate tax. My figures are up to date and experiences first hand.

Salary in tax is higher than in audit. Consulting is the highest but then consulting don’t get 5 months off in their first year studying for arguably the definitive accountacy qualification. I know the whole ACA/ACCA/ICAS thing has been done to death but in my humble opinion, the ACA has a slight edge over the others in terms of recognition and prestige. Qualifying as a chartered acountant is a massive acheivement in itself but the fact that three of the big4 push their grads into the ACA says enough.

First year salary for 2008/2009 will be £28k+ (inclusive of benefits) for London.

When I’m in the office I start at 9.30am (actually about 10am by the time I’ve sat down, plugged my laptop in and found a cup of coffee). I’m usually out the door by 6.30pm but this all depends on my workload. I’d say on average I leave twice a week at 5.30pm, twice at 6.30pm and maybe once at like 7.30pm but this is my choice. If I feel I have enough on my plate, I will turn work down. When I’m at college, my hours are 9am to 4pm with a further 3 to 4 hours of work a night and just before exams this easily rises to over 100 hours a week.

I can’t speak for the other service lines but there’s not much travelling, at the junior grades, in tax and therefore you actually work very reasonable hours. I’ve found people to be friendly, approachable and intelligent. The atmosphere is very professional and collaborative.

The downside of being an associate is that due to the structure of our charge out rates, we get the most tedious work. Some of it is certainly interesting but when a report needs to go out and it needs to be finely checked for consistency, grammar and format; they’re going to ask you to it. This attention to detail is the trademark of professional work - to the point where there might be 2 spaces after a word or the spacing between lines isn’t exactly right and it will get picked up.

Because of the nature of the training contract, you form a close bond to the graduates you join with and those you study with. It’s not the usual co-worker friendship but more like the mates you make at university. It’s new for all of us and the shared experiences of going to international conferences, working with partners and staying into study while your mates go out and party, means those friendships transcend simply sharing the same workspace everyday. We’ve already lost about 15% of the 2007/08 intake due to (lack of) performance in exams.

Anyway, those are my thoughts and ones I usually share with prospective new joiners. Hope it was informative.


Very informative. Thanks Loquitur!

Can I ask you specifically what a typical day would consist of? …what are the best and worst parts?


Loquitur - thats really useful for me too. I’m starting in Corporate Tax in a Big 4 regional office in September. How often do you travel out of the office in Corporate Tax (frequency per month)?

In my contract it states that my working hours are 8:45AM-5:15PM (with a 1 hour break). As I am starting earlier would it be a fair assumption to say that I would finish earlier or is there a culture of staying until 6PM just for the sake of it? I recognise that I will work overtime and am under no illusions that I will do so but am wondering if by starting earlier I would be working even more hours.


I’ll preface everything by saying I work in a specialist department and that my experiences may be quite different to corporate tax generally.

Not sure what its like in the regions, other than what I’ve heard from people who work there. I suspect London is quite different to Reading or Newcastle. We tend to go to a client meeting when a partner or senior manager needs someone to take meeting notes - if you work for only a few number of major clients this may be more regular. Some people may be seconded for a month or so to work at the client site.

Working in practice means that the atmosphere is more laid back. As long as you have enough chargeable hours a month and are putting in a fair amount of effort, no one is going to break your balls for it. Some people get in at like 8am but again this comes down to either convenience or because they’re busy. I tend to get in later and leave later but you can figure out what’s reasonable. If there’s a lot of work going around and you’re turning down projects and leaving at 5pm each day, that’s clearly being a bit cheeky. Your first priority is to pass your exams and it’s a waste of everyone’s time (and your money) if you have to do resits so I try to find a balance.

Typical day in the office begins with checking emails and seeing if anything urgent has cropped up that I need to deal with first - e.g. making changes to a letter before it can be sent etc. Probably have about 2 to 5 projects on-going with varying activity. If I have nothing to do I’ll read news updates, recent developments in tax or see if anyone has a bit of work they need helping with (although generally people will approach me or the allocator will send a manager your way if you tell them you’re not busy). Again this may differ to other corporate tax departments, the one I work in specialises in economic analysis and advisory rather than computation. I’ll probably have a few chats a day with various people from all seniority levels but I’m in closest contact with the managers. Sometimes the work doesn’t require a large team and I may work alone with a partner or director who doesn’t need a manager for the piece of work.

I like the research and financial modelling parts the most. We may need to find out what different credit ratings exist, examine license agreements or counsel’s opinion, summarize commodity forecasts, use a bloomberg terminal or develop spreadsheet models for valuation purposes. The tedious parts may include formating reports or the dreaded Take-On-Process, Know Your Client checks or drafting an engagement letter (when we start a new project with a new client we need to undertake risk assessment, Money Laundering checks and draft a contract scoping the services we are to provide).

As an analyst we’ll be most familiar with how we can get the actual information or resources to carry out a task. What people are looking for is your practical knowledge with the tools, forms or databases we use on a regular basis and their functions and weaknesses. Managers organize the day to day running of projects, allocate resources or develop the models with input from the partners/ directors who will set the strategic direction and also be the client’s main point of contact.