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The Advantages of Boutique Law Firms for Attorneys

published April 15, 2022

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Most attorneys focus on spending their legal careers and providing legal services only in major law firms in the"top 50" or "top 25" list. However, a boutique law firm can often offer much more stability and happiness in an attorney's life. Read on to find out why a boutique firm might be the better choice for you and your legal career.
 
 

The Prestige of Big Law Firms

 

As a legal recruiter and founder of BCG Attorney Search with over two decades of experience in the legal industry, I have come in contact with many different attorneys daily. Most of them chase after being more successful, having more prestige, and making more money, and they usually believe that this can only be achieved in the largest law firms. Often, they do not even want to realize that this kind of lifestyle and these types of law firms leave them stressed and unhappy because they see everyone around them also living life in big law firms. When I suggest that there are also other options and opportunities in different types of firms, they do not want to hear it.


A law firm's prestige is usually one of the most important aspects of every attorney's jobs search. All lawyers are very aware of the firms' rankings and where they stand in their "prestige" level. Many lawyers I have worked with would rather be unemployed than get placed in a firm that is not as prestigious as they want. Attorneys who were asked to leave only consider firms of similar rank to their previous employer. Those relocating to smaller markets often turn down offers because the salary was significantly lower than they were used to in the large market. Many of them quit the legal practice altogether and go into alternative careers. This is very common among attorneys from New York law firms or similarly large legal markets.
 

The Advantages of Boutique Firms

 

From my experience in legal recruiting, I have discovered that the happiest and most stable attorneys are those in smaller law firms. Many legal professionals have started in these law firms right after graduating from law school or spending their whole careers there. That is something I rarely see in large law firms.

Working in a small law firm, like everything in life, has some disadvantages and many advantages. Below are the most important reasons why working in boutique firms might be the right career move.
 

Boutique Law Firms Are Better for Some Niche Practice Areas

 

Attorneys established some small law firms from niche practice areas who wanted to practice that law together. They built a great reputation as expert boutique law firms and have become the go-to choice for clients who require legal professionals with given expertise.

Boutique firms specialize in tax law, healthcare, intellectual property law, family law, ERISA, labor and employment law, white-collar crimes, appellate law, entertainment, fashion law, sports law, or trust and estate law.

If you are in one of these specialized services, it might be more lucrative to opt for a boutique law firm. The good reputation, access to unique and important work, expertise and knowledge of attorneys from the same niche area, and also the power the firm has over prices and rates is something you would not be able to find in a big law firm.
 

Boutique Firms Are Great for Areas That Are Not Profitable in Large Law Firms

 

Most consumer-facing practice areas are not very profitable for larger law firms. These are areas in which the attorney represents a person rather than a company, such as criminal law, insurance defense, plaintiff’s jobs, family law, the majority of entertainment law, public interest, or trust and estates. Because they are not profitable for a large law firm, they are not a priority, and there is often a lack of work and stability in them.

On the other hand, smaller law firms focusing on these highly specialized services tend to be more stable and usually offer a more steady workstream. Attorneys are better off choosing a smaller law firm if they are in a practice area that is not profitable for big firms.
 

Smaller Law Firms Are More Suited for Representing Small Businesses



Many attorneys enjoy working with small businesses and helping them with legal representation. However, small businesses could never afford the high billing rates of big law firms, which forces them to choose small firms or solo practitioners for all of their legal needs. If you are one of those lawyers who want to represent smaller businesses, choosing a small or boutique practice is better.

These positions could be as specialized as the attorney wants. It does not matter whether the attorney wants to represent certain types of business because they have a personal connection to it or have realized that there is a great opportunity in a very specialized niche. For instance, small firm attorneys represent only franchise owners of one specific fast-food chain and have found great success.
 

Boutique Firms Are Ideal for Attorneys With Too Many Years of Experience in Large Firms


As attorneys become more senior, they become less profitable for large law firms if they do not have a big business book. Attorneys with six or more years of experience are usually asked to leave and are replaced with younger lawyers with more energy and lower billing rates.

These attorneys have a hard time finding positions in larger firms. However, they are the perfect candidates for law boutiques. It is usually quite difficult for smaller firms to find experienced lawyers with good training who want to work there, so senior attorneys for big firms are a great way to resolve this issue.

Boutique law firms might often have difficulties finding attorneys who have experience with certain types of transactions or mergers and acquisitions, so hiring a senior attorney from a large law firm with years of training and hands-on experience can be very profitable for both sides.
 

Attorneys With Enough Business Who Want Better Conditions Might Be Better Off in Smaller Firms


A larger law firm with a queue of talented and experienced attorneys who want to work there can dictate its conditions. The firm knows that if someone is not okay with these conditions, they can be quickly and easily replaced.

Attorneys who have enough transferrable business to support them can take this business to a smaller firm where they can negotiate better conditions than they had in the large firm. In a smaller law firm, these attorneys can usually keep a larger share of the revenue from their business as small firms have lower costs and do not need the larger percentage. Many successful attorneys have benefited from switching to a smaller firm.
 

It Is Easier To Get a Partner Title in a Boutique Law Firm


Having a title, such as a law firm partner, means a lot to some attorneys, and they are willing to do everything to achieve it. However, only a fraction of the best attorneys can make partners in major law firms because the requirements for partners are set extremely high.

The partner requirements in a boutique firm are much easier to fulfill, and many small law firms promise large firm attorneys to make them partners quicker if they come to work there. If having a titled role and/or ownership rights are important for you in your career, smaller boutique full-service firms might be the right choice for you.
 

It Is Better To Work in a Boutique Firm Than Being Unemployed


The worst thing for any attorney's career is being unemployed. Having a gap on the resume invites potential employers to think that the attorney has done something bad to lose their job or was not committed enough to the practice of law to find a new one. If the attorney has no other options, a boutique law firm is better than being unemployed.

If you have lost your job or your employer has given you a few weeks to find a new one, it might be difficult to find a placement in a large law firm. A smaller firm might be your only chance to avoid being unemployed. It is always possible to find a job in a larger firm afterward, and being constantly employed shows that you are committed.

You might also find yourself in a small market with no larger firms. In that case, the only way to stay employed is to find a job in a small full-service law firm.

However, most attorneys switch to boutique law firms during recessions or when their practice area slows down significantly. In these times, the billing rates of large law firms start to be too high for clients who are trying to save where they can, so they move all of their legal matters to small law firms that provide legal services at lower rates. These smaller firms have to start hiring attorneys in swarms to manage all of the new work, and attorneys who have no work in big law firms do not have a choice but to move where the work is.
 

It Is Easy To Get a "Counsel" Title Without Doing a Too Much Work In a Boutique Law Firm


Having the title of "counsel" looks good on a resume, and many boutique firms are willing to give this title to attorneys without working very hard. Even attorneys who work part-time or remotely can have the "counsel" title in a boutique law firm. These attorneys can keep practicing law with the counsel title while also focusing on other things, such as running a business, being an author, or going into politics. This is also a great option for attorneys who care for their families and young children. The title of counsel is usually connected to the continuous dedication of an attorney, and it can be obtained for far less work in a boutique law firm than anywhere else.
 

If You Have Personal Connections in a Boutique Law Firm, It Is the Best Place for You


Having allies and close relationships in the law firm you are working in is a great asset that not many attorneys have. If there is a boutique law firm where your friends or relatives work (or they run it) and you have an offer to work there, it is the best place to be.

These close relationships can protect you when the law firm is in trouble, and they can also teach you important things you will benefit from for the rest of your career. If you are close with someone who is more experienced and knows the ins and outs of the firm's politics, you are in a much better position to succeed.

Finding the right mentors and allies can change your career for the better. If there are people close to you in a boutique law firm, you do not have to look for them and are already a step ahead in the race to succeed.
 

Getting Into a Boutique Law Firm That Is On a Path To Success Is Wonderful for an Attorneys Growth


With some boutique law firms, you just know that they will take off and become very successful. They are building a great reputation. The attorneys there have good energy and a great work ethic. They are attracting the right clients and new attorneys, and everyone is talking only wonderful things about the firm.

If you know about a boutique firm like that and can get into it on the ground floor before it takes off, you are on the best track to get far in your career. You can get a better experience, eventually more money, and more partnership opportunities if you get into a firm before it becomes successful.
 

Starting in a Boutique Law Firm Established by Attorneys From Your Previous Law Firm Can Be a Great Opportunity


Whole groups of attorneys leave law firms daily for many reasons. It is often because they are not satisfied with the financial compensation and after major disagreements with the management, because of lack of advancement opportunities, or when the firm stops focusing on a certain practice area and the attorneys do not have any work to do. These attorneys then sometimes start their own small boutique law firm together.

If this has happened in your law firm and you are considering leaving the firm for similar reasons as this group of attorneys, starting in the smaller firm they have started might be a great career step.
 

There Are More Stronger Client Relationships in a Boutique Law Firm

 

Contact with law firm's clients is very important for many attorneys, and it is often necessary for achieving success. However, it can be very difficult to meet clients in big law firms. It can take years for many young attorneys even to meet clients if they work in a major law firm.

In smaller boutique firms, there are fewer employees, so attorneys have to do most of the work on their own, including meeting with clients. If you want to meet the people you are helping; small law firms are a great way to achieve that.
 

A Boutique Law Firm Can Offer More Responsibility


As mentioned in the previous point, smaller law firms have fewer attorneys, so those working there do a lot of their work. In big law firms, the work is divided based on the seniority level of attorneys, and those more junior often do not get to work on the most important matters.

If you need to have a lot of responsibility, work on legal matters on your own, and have accountability for them, boutique law firms are ideal for you.
 

If You Are Unhappy in a Large Law Firm, Boutique Firm Environment Might Be for You


The large law firm environment is not for everyone, and many attorneys find out after years of working there that it makes them unhappy. Most of them consider other career options, which usually include either going to a small boutique law firm or going in-house.

Smaller firms can offer more client contact, more responsibility, faster advancement, more work-life balance, and often even better work relationships. This can be life-changing for many attorneys and help them find happiness in their legal careers.
 

Boutique Firms Are better for Attorneys Who Prefer More Personal Relationships at Work


Large law firms often have hundreds of employees, making it hard to feel any intimate, professional connection with other attorneys. Some people are okay with such an impersonal environment; however, others need more close, family-like relationships at work to be happy. There is usually less competitiveness, unpleasant surprises, and backstabbing in such environments, which can be important for many lawyers.
 

Attorneys With Problems That Prevent Them From Keeping a Job in Big Firms Can Succeed in Boutique Law Firms


Big law firms are very strict with what type of attorneys can keep a job there, and they do not excuse any issues with work ethic. If an attorney has substance abuse issues, personal or psychological problems, or any other problem that might negatively affect the firm or affect the attorney's work, they are asked to leave. Boutique firms are not as picky with their employees and will hire even attorneys with work or personal problems with big law firm training and experience.
 

Attorneys Who Want To Stand Out Regardless of the Size of the Firm


Some people just want to stand out and be in a position of authority, even in a small pond. Many attorneys need to feel respected and valued by others, and some even need it to perform better at work. This is much easier to achieve in boutique firms than in big ones. Attorneys who would be just average lawyers in some major firm in a large market are often considered exceptional in a small law firm they are working in. If this motivates you or something you crave, starting in a boutique law firm might be the right step.
 

Attorneys Who Want To Work on Other Things Apart From Practicing Law


Boutique law firms are a great place for attorneys who know that practicing law is not their dream career and who want to (eventually) go into different career paths. A boutique law firm does not require such long hours from attorneys, and many can even work reduced hours or part-time. This allows the attorneys to attend courses, run a business, work on side projects, or even travel. So, if you know that you do not want to stay in the practice of law long-term; however, you are skilled and valuable enough for the boutique firm to keep you, it is a win for you.
 

A Boutique Firm Is Less Prone to Changes in Firm Politics and Structure


Big firms are dynamic and constantly changing - they are always expanding, opening and closing branch offices, hiring and firing people, or changing their compensation plans. This constant uncertainty can be very stressful, and while one attorney might thrive in such an environment, another might feel not secure enough to function well.

On the other hand, boutique firms are usually very stable and predictable, which might fit more to many attorneys.
 

Boutique Firms Are More Open to Hiring Attorneys Coming From Other Practice Settings


Attorneys who work in in-house positions, the government, or public interest jobs have a very hard time finding positions in big law firms as larger firms believe that only someone coming from the same environment will be able to handle the job (which is often true). Boutique law firms tend not to look that harshly on the previous practice setting and do not have a problem hiring someone coming from these positions. It is a great choice for attorneys who want to stay in a boutique law firm, and those who want to later get back into larger firms as a boutique firm can be a great stepping stone between different settings.
 

In Boutique Firms, You Can Work Closely With Well-Known Attorneys


Many famous and successful lawyers choose to work in boutique firms later on in their careers, and because of the family-like environment these firms have, you might get the chance to work very closely with them.

In smaller firms, the attorney you will be collaborating with and working for will probably interview you, so you have a unique chance to build a strong professional relationship right from the start. This attorney also usually becomes your mentor, so starting in a smaller firm under an accomplished attorney can be career-changing.
 

Boutique Firms Offer Better Work-Life Balance

 

A smaller law firm can offer much better working hours than a large firm. The clients of small firms do not have the funds to pay for hundreds of hours of work, so the attorneys do not have to spend their evenings and weekends in the office. Instead, they can spend their free time with their families and friends, doing their hobbies and relaxing and recharging, which usually makes them much happier and healthier than their counterparts from big law firms, even if they have lower salaries.
 

Conclusions


Most attorneys are fighting for their chance to work in a major firm. They want to be more successful, earn more money, have more prestige, and make partners in a more prestigious firm than others. They breathe to work and do not have time to go to a doctor or meet with friends. A life like that can lead to money and fame; however, it is far from a happy life. A small boutique law firm can offer what a large firm cannot. While attorneys in small firms usually earn less money than those in big firms, there are many advantages to working in a boutique firm that can make it ideal for many attorneys.

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