Summary: Smaller law firms have some distinct advantages to their larger big law counterparts. Find out what those advantages are in this article.
- Many attorneys see themselves working within large prestigious law firms.
- But at the same time quite a few attorneys have found it beneficial and satisfying to work in smaller-type firms.
- Find out in this article why some attorneys prefer to work in smaller firms as opposed to larger more powerful legal establishments.
What type of attorney do you envision for yourself practice-wise?
Do you see yourself working in a tall downtown skyscraper within a law firm that spans five floors and employs hundreds of other attorneys?
Or do you think of yourself in more individual terms within a law firm — a place where you’re not blending into the crowd of business suits, block-shaped desks and billable hours?
If in your case it’s the latter rather than the former, practicing law within a smaller law firm may be the perfect destination for your legal talent.
Small law firms tend to break heavily from what is known of traditional larger firms. For instance, smaller law firms have fewer clients, and the lawyers who work in these firms tend to be more hands on.
The Small Law Firm
According to Sally Kane, quite a large number of attorneys practice within smaller law firms. These legal establishments usually house no more than 20 attorneys, with some firms having even fewer within their legal staff.
In fact, according to the American Bar Association’s Lawyer Demographics a majority of attorneys work in even smaller firms, and almost half of all lawyers in private practice are solo practitioners.
Another 20 percent are employed by firms of 10 attorneys or fewer. This, accordingly, makes practicing within a small law firm uniquely advantageous as is shown through the following seven benefits.
- You will have a greater variety of work.
Lawyers are often generalists within smaller law firms, engaging themselves in a variety of cases and potential practice areas. This goes against what usually occurs to lawyers in large firms where they experience a high degree of specialization. The exception for small firms is the boutique law firm, which usually focuses its practice on a specific, niche area of law.
2. The working hours within a small law firm are more flexible.
There is life beyond the rigorous hours a lawyer spends reading, writing and analyzing legal issues. At least it’s that way for lawyers who practice in smaller law firms.
As Kane points out that while there may be fewer hands to contribute to those inevitable all-hands-on-deck emergencies that mark some areas of law, a sense of camaraderie and teamwork often provides a strong balance between times of intensity and calm.
3. Lawyers in smaller law firms gain more hands-on experience.
Attorneys, especially new associates as well as paralegals may perform more substantive legal tasks in smaller firms than those in larger firms. This is because the staff is more limited in a small law firm.
And while this sort of sharing of the workload can lead to more errors which could put the law firm at risk, smaller law firms in which everyone pitches in generally produce a faster-paced learning environment.
4. Lawyers in smaller law firms have more client interaction.
A direct result of working as an attorney in a smaller law firm is the client contact.
Associates in small law firms may operate with greater autonomy and have more client contact than those working in large law firms where client contact is often reserved for more senior lawyers.
Kane suggests this situation might be ideal for an attorney who feels they are a “people person” who enjoys one-on-one contact with those they are helping.
5. Atmospheres are more relaxed in smaller law firms.
Lawyers, who put in 14-hour days or continuously work until midnight, can in no way feel relaxed at or about their job.
Meanwhile, the lawyer within the small law firm doesn’t nearly feel the stress of his big law colleague.
Dress codes are less formal, and socializing among employees is often more common. In a small law firm, employees engage in events such as graduations and weddings to Friday evening happy hours.
Everyone knows each other on a first-name basis, which fosters friendly, comfortable working relationships.
6. It won’t take you as long to become a partner within a small law firm.
Kane points out that the road to partnership in a small firm may be shorter than that of a large law firm because there are fewer attorneys and layers of management. This can be particularly advantageous for an attorney who wants to fast-track their success.
With fewer lawyers on hand, one attorney within a small law firm is bound to be assigned more tasks. There of course will be more promotion of that attorney’s skill, a potential faster increase in salary, and a bigger slice of the profits once partnership is achieved.
Legal professionals in small law firms also face less in-house competition than those in big law firms.
Lastly, small law firm employees can more easily prove their worth to those in power, making it simpler to garner recognition and reward.
7. There will be a greater opportunity to have influence with the law firm’s processes and management.
Working for a small law firm may allow legal professionals greater control in the direction and management of their firms as well as their own careers.
Hierarchies are often less carved in granite, so senior partners may be more willing to hear suggestions and opinions from staff.
While many small law firms are unable to accommodate the pay scales of much larger firms, particularly to incoming associates and longstanding partners, the atmosphere of small or boutique law firms more than make up for the lower pay.
Between working in a more laid back environment, practicing in various legal areas, increased client contact, as well as the flexible hours and ability to give input into the firm’s operation, all add up to a happier, healthier and most importantly a more well-rounded attorney.