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How Choosing a Smaller Law Firm Can Benefit You: Benefits of Not Going With Bigger Law Firms

published February 20, 2023

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( 35 votes, average: 4.9 out of 5)
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For attorneys and law students seeking a career in the legal field, the temptation to join a larger law firm can be difficult to resist. While a larger firm often offers more opportunities, it is important to consider the pros and cons before making a decision about your career path.

The biggest advantage of joining a larger firm is the exposure to a greater variety of legal matters. Because larger firms tend to handle more complex and high-stakes cases, they can offer the opportunity to gain experience in a wide range of legal fields, as well as contact with important clients and businesses. In addition, larger firms often provide better financial benefits, and they tend to be more competitive in terms of wages, bonuses, and other perks.

However, there are also a number of drawbacks to working at a larger firm. Working hours can be long and intense, and the workload can be overwhelming. The competition for higher positions and client recognition can also be fierce. Moreover, with more attorneys in the same firm, opportunities for personal growth and development may be limited.

When considering whether to join a larger firm, it is important to take into account the demands of the job and the ability to meet your career goals. The rewards of a large firm are undeniable, but it is ultimately up to the individual to decide which path is best for them. Before making a decision, it is essential to be honest with yourself and consider the pros and cons of joining a larger firm.

For legal professionals who want to expand their horizons and take on more complex cases, a larger law firm may be the right choice. On the other hand, if you value a lower-pressure work environment or want to focus on a specific area of law, a smaller firm may be a better option. Ultimately, the decision should be based on what best fits your career goals and lifestyle.

Do Bigger Firms Mean Better Careers?

When a person embarks upon a career in the legal profession, the first question a person typically asks is what type of firm should they join. In most cases, the answer to this question lies in size. A larger firm usually means more recognition, prestige, and opportunity for advancement. Although this might be true in many cases, it isn't always the case when it comes to legal profession. In fact, the size of a law firm may not necessarily be the best indicator of career potential.

Larger Firms Often Come with More Resources

When it comes to career prospects, larger law firms offer more resources and opportunities than their smaller counterparts. The resources generally include an impressive and large network of contacts, access to a large client base, and the ability to learn from experienced lawyers within the firm. In addition, because of their size, larger firms are often able to offer the opportunity to work on bigger and more prestigious cases.

What Drawbacks Might Larger Firms Present?

Although joining a larger firm may offer more opportunities, there are also a few drawbacks to consider. The larger firm may not allow for as much personal attention for a lawyer as may be found in a smaller firm. In addition, the larger firms often have rigid and bureaucratic processes for their lawyers, making it hard for an individual to feel like a valued team member. Finally, because of the sheer size of a larger firm, it is possible for a lawyer to feel lost in the shuffle and never fully realize their potential.

Advantages of Smaller Firms

The smaller firm is not without its advantages. Many of the same resources available to larger firms, such as access to a network of contacts, can also be found in smaller firms. In addition, smaller firms may also offer a certain camaraderie that larger firms do not, as well as the chance to take on more responsibility earlier in their career, allowing them to hone their skills quicker. And, by joining a smaller firm, attorney's may also benefit from the opportunity to work with other professionals, such as accountants and financial advisors, to gain a better understanding of the business world.

Choosing the Right Firm for You

When choosing a firm, it's important to take into account all of the pros and cons. Consider what matters most to you in your career and choose a firm that will allow you to reach your goals. Ultimately, the choice should be based on factors like the size of the firm, its resources, your career aspirations, and what type of environment you feel most comfortable in. For most of the past decade, law school graduates have been gravitating at an ever-increasing rate to the nation's largest law firms. The trend peaked in 2001, when 42.6 percent of graduates signed on with firms of 101 or more attorneys. Now, with many major firms cutting back on new associate hiring, there are indications that more students are finding their first jobs in small or mid-size firms.

Some graduates have been forced to look toward smaller firms for their first job, but others have made the choice on their own. The reasons range from more challenging assignments to less billable hours pressure, a less stressful lifestyle, geographic necessity or a combination of all those factors.

Jacie Zolna, a 2002 graduate of DePaul University School of Law, is one who made the choice voluntarily. Zolna compiled an impressive academic record in law school and would likely have been welcomed at many large firms, but opted to sign on with the four-attorney Myron M. Cherry & Associates firm in Chicago, where he had worked since his first summer of law school.

"The responsibility I get here is far greater than I would get in a large firm," Zolna said. "I'm not getting bits and pieces of cases here - I get full cases, draft briefs, take depositions, get to run the whole gamut of litigation. I haven't gotten the Bar results back, so I have to have someone sign off on it, but I basically run the whole case," he said.

Zolna and others like him who have intentionally gone the small-to-mid-size-firm route obviously place a high value on the experience they are gaining. According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), the median starting salary in firms of two to 10 attorneys in 2001 was $43,000. At firms of 101 or more attorneys, it was $100,000 - $125,000 at firms of 251 or more attorneys.

"There's a trade-off obviously," said Zolna. "At larger firms, they're getting paid more, maybe have more prestige, and have more resources. Here, I'm lawyer, secretary, law clerk and file clerk all in one sometimes. But I really wanted to get good experience right off the bat, and I'm getting a jump start in terms of experience that will help me in my career later on."

As larger firms cut back on new associate hiring, smaller firms are beginning to show up more frequently for on-campus interviewing, and law school career services departments are beginning to court those firms more aggressively on behalf of their grads.

"We've tried to reach out more to smaller and mid-size firms," said Anthony Bastone, assistant dean of career services at the University of Colorado School of Law in Denver. "We're putting together a directory of two- to 10- and 11- to 25-attorney firms in the Denver area and contacting those firms to determine their needs and offer our services on hiring needs and any other concerns. We're taking a very proactive approach."

Marcie Cox, director of career services at the University of Miami (Fla.) Law School sees the same.

"There are definitely a declining number of opportunities at big firms for graduates. We're seeing a greater number of small or mid-size firms on campus."

If the old pattern is indeed changing, it will be a dramatic reversal. First year employment at firms of 101 or more attorneys has increased steadily every year since 1994, going from 24.9 percent of all grads in 1994 to last year's 42.6 percent. All other firm sizes have been in decline for new associate hires, but current economic trends will almost certainly reflect a shift when this year's hiring statistics come out later this year.

One factor directly related to the economy is a decline in corporate law practice, which in turn impacts large law firm hiring.

"Smaller firms tend to do more litigation, as opposed to corporate, which is off right now," said Miami's Cox. "Few small firms do corporate, so they aren't as affected."

This story appeared in the March 2002 edition of The National Jurist,

published February 20, 2023

( 35 votes, average: 4.9 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.