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Types of Law Firms and How They Affect Your Legal Career

published April 19, 2022

By Author - LawCrossing
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( 2 votes, average: 3.8 out of 5)
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The type of law firm you are in as an attorney is vital for your future career. Unfortunately, many attorneys do not realize this and have their careers not picked up or ended abruptly because they are in the wrong type of law firm.

We recognize five main types of law firms: traditional large law firms have main and branch offices, midsized law firms, boutique or small law firms, and new law firms currently growing. They all have different characteristics, different distribution of power, advancement opportunities, compensation plans, training, job stability, or future options. Knowing the right type of law firm can make or break your career.

As a legal recruiter and the founder of BCG Attorney Search, I come into contact with attorneys from all types of firms, and I know how they function. This article uncovers the advantages and disadvantages of these law firms to help you decide what kind of firm is right for your future and your legal career.

Large Law Firms - Main Offices


Large national law firms that have been around for decades are usually where lawyers and law school graduates want to work. However, many attorneys currently work in large law firms that are burnt out and want to leave.

Advantages of Main Offices of Large Firms

It is not a surprise that many young attorneys want to start in large prestigious firms. It offers its established name, important work from major clients in corporate law, bankruptcy law, or environmental law, high salaries, and a high-profit margin, which most law firms envy. A large law firm can provide some of the best training to any young starting lawyer because the standard of quality of work is very high there. They learn how to deal with different types of demanding clients, pay attention to even the smallest details, and provide legal services at the highest levels. Such training also allows these attorneys to move laterally to other firms easily.

If an attorney wants to succeed in such a firm, they have to work extremely hard. However, success is also well repaid with very high salaries and bonuses. And all of these advantages are better experienced in the main offices of the big law firms. The most important clients and work is always found in the main offices, so they offer better work and more opportunities for experience and training.

Disadvantages of Main Offices of Large Firms

With how large firms are run and what is expected from attorneys, it is not surprising that many attorneys do not survive in this environment long-term. Main offices of big firms are a type of high-stress and high-stakes environment that can suck out the health and energy of anyone after a few years. Many lawyers start to have serious health problems after practicing law at this level for a few years. Heart health issues and consequences like a heart attack are very common, along with different types of cancer. Some attorneys also deal with the stress they are experiencing by abusing substances, and many of them experience mental health issues. The list is endless.

With increased stress and the necessity of working long hours to succeed, most law firms of this size do not offer any long-term work stability. Associates are getting fired or being asked to leave every day regardless of how many years and billed hours they have invested into the law firm. Even partners that have been with the firm for decades are asked to find a different law firm if they struggle to bring in new business. Many attorneys leave on their own because it is hard to keep up in such a setting.

Advancing in these firms can be very difficult for most attorneys. Only a handful of the most well-connected and skilled attorneys can get to the top of the largest law firms, where most of the money is concentrated. Others are kept working hard with the illusion that they might once get to the top, although it is not true more often than it is. This also contributes to attorneys leaving the law firms (and often even leaving the law practice altogether) and not staying there long-term.

Another big issue many attorneys experience in larger law firms is that it is very impersonal. Attorneys are not considered individual people with their skills and value to the firm but rather a faceless workforce that can be replaced when they ask too many questions.

Large Law Firms - Branch Offices


Large, traditional law firms also have branch offices and the main ones. These might often be in smaller cities or smaller markets and markets comparable to the main office. While branch offices have the same brand name as the traditional law firm, they operate differently and have different expectations from their attorneys.

Advantages of a Branch Office of a Large Firm

Branch offices can often offer a better work-life balance and better working hours with less pressure to perform. Politicking is also often more prevalent in main offices, and the branch ones can function more like a smaller law firm without a ton of politics.

The main offices are also where hiring requirements are higher or more diligently followed, so getting hired can sometimes be easier at a branch office. The same applies to advancing - in some (rare) cases, it can be much easier and faster to advance in a branch office of a large firm than in their main offices. It does not happen often, but it can.

Although this does not happen often, some branch offices can pick up and become stronger than the main ones. This has, for instance, happened with Quinn Emanuel. They started with the main office in Los Angeles; however, their New York branch office became stronger over time

Disadvantages of a Branch Office of a Large Firm

As previously mentioned, the most important and sophisticated work usually stays in the main offices. That leaves branch offices with a limited range of work. Branch offices typically do not have the opportunity to work on complex cases where they can bill a ton of hours for high rates. These attorneys have only limited training, experience, and advancement opportunities.

Many branch offices work on only a single major case or for only a few clients, which can be very limiting for attorneys in terms of their experience. This limitation of only working on a single case or for a single client puts branch offices at high risk of closing down once the case is closed or if the client chooses to switch firms.

Partners in a branch office also experience many drawbacks in their workplace. They are not in the main center of the power in their firm, so they often do not have control over the decisions partners in the main office have. Because of this, they might feel like something "less than", which never brings anything positive into the firm.

Moreover, many branch offices of big firms do not make partners. They have partners only in their main offices and go decades without offering partnership to anyone in the branch office. That can be extremely discouraging. Those offices with partners often bring in lateral ones that have jumped from one firm to another. Partners like this tend to be unreliable and bring this chaos to their firm.

Of course, as with everything, these advantages and drawbacks are not set in stone, and many offices work well and do not experience all of these problems. However, these are the most common ones I have seen.

Midsized Law Firms


There are many midsized law firms and their locations; however, they are mostly in regional markets.

Advantages of Midsized Law Firms

Although attorneys are not usually fighting for their job in a mid-sized law firm, many of them end up there because something in their background did not allow them to get a position in a large firm, this type of law firm has many advantages. The work-life balance and working hours are much better in a midsized firm than in larger ones. This allows attorneys to have some time to relax, spend on their interests outside of the law and spend time with their close ones resulting in happier life and attitude. They do not get burnt out as quickly as attorneys in extremely competitive firms, so they often practice law longer and experience great job satisfaction.

These law firms are usually more personal and family-like and less focused on numbers and results. Attorneys there are considered valuable as people, so firms do not fire them when they stop billing enough hours. To some extent, they are protected, and the firm wants to keep them around. This job security adds to the happy and balanced lives lawyers in midsized firms often lead.

Because young attorneys and law students who start working in such a firm are considered a part of the family, more senior legal professionals invest time and effort into teaching them how to generate business. This is something attorneys benefit from in their whole law careers.

Disadvantages of Midsized Law Firms

Of course, there are always some drawbacks. Midsized law firms cannot offer salaries as high as those in big law firms. Because of their size and location, they also do not have the biggest clients or the most sophisticated legal issues, which might be an issue for some attorneys. They also often do not have that many clients, so losing one might pose difficulties for the firm.

While there are some exceptions, most law firms of this size are not the best place for attorneys who want to switch to a major firm later. A few midsized law firms have great reputations, and lawyers can easily switch to larger law firms; however, many are not like that.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that these firms are often focused on niche practice areas. These are intellectual property law, tax law, immigration law, or real estate. Also, many midsized firms eventually merge with larger firms and lose many advantages legal professionals find in them.

Small or Boutique Law Firms


A boutique law firm is a smaller law firm that typically specializes in a particular area of the law. Boutique law firms often have more experience and expertise in these specific areas of law than larger law firms. This can benefit clients who need specific legal assistance in these areas. Civil rights attorneys, family law attorneys, environmental lawyers, personal injury attorneys, and criminal defense lawyers are all examples of boutique law firm lawyers. If you need legal assistance in any of these areas, you may consider contacting a boutique law firm.

The Pros of Boutique Firms

Although many attorneys look down on small firms, attorneys and law students who are just starting in the legal profession can benefit greatly from working in a boutique firm. There are few other lawyers in boutique law firms, which means that even attorneys who are fresh out of law school only shortly can get a lot of responsibility and client contact. In larger firms, young lawyers often do not get any hands-on experience for years, but they are exposed to it very early in boutique firms. It can also be easier to bond with partners in a small or family law firm because attorneys collaborate closely.

The Cons of Boutique Law Firms

Boutique firms also have a lot of disadvantages. There are usually just a few attorneys bringing in business, which might make them feel entitled to most of the firm's revenue and lead to fights about money, adversarial environment, and other issues.

These firms usually focus on consumer-facing practice areas, such as family law or personal injury law, which means that the billing rates (and revenue) are significantly lower than those of large law firms. As a result, lawyers get lower salaries, and the firm might have an issue offering partnerships to attorneys who do not bring in enough business on their own. Lower salaries also discourage the best lawyers from working in these firms.

Another huge issue for anyone's legal career is that the training and experience from boutique law firms are extremely varied, which hinders attorneys' options for lateral moves. Major law firms usually do not know whether a candidate coming from a boutique firm will be able to handle the fast-paced environment and quality requirements to work in a firm of their caliber, so they often choose someone who is coming from a similar environment.

These situations are never one-size-fits-all, so many attorneys were able to benefit from working in a boutique firm greatly. At the same time, other lawyers would consider it the worst career decision of their lives. It is possible to find wealth and happiness in boutique law firms, but you also have these disadvantages in mind.

Growing, New Law Firms


New law firms are being created every day, and many of them can attract some attention and new talent pretty quickly.

Advantages of Growing Firms

Some of these new, fast-growing firms become extremely successful, profitable, and competitive law firms after a few years. Attorneys who were able to start in these firms early on can see rapid advancement, access to a lot of work together, and great responsibility and autonomy in the firm, which is rare in well-established firms. This rapid growth also brings revenue to the firm, which translates into salaries and bonuses for attorneys.

Drawbacks of New, Growing Firms

Although some new firms can pick up and grow, many collapses and go under very quickly. More firms end up failing than succeeding. Usually, lawyers running the firm are not yet experienced managers, which can be a real setback for any company. If an attorney starts in a firm that bankrupts soon after starting there, it can hurt their career.

Rapid growth can also be very toxic for attorneys in the firm. Many start believing they deserve to earn more without thinking that the firm is still unstable and needs to first establish itself and put in some safety nets before it can pay out huge profit shares. This can create fights and a toxic environment. New firm owners might also have issues running the firm because of their lack of experience. They might hire too many employees or struggle with collecting money from clients. That puts the firm in a lot of problems.


Many attorneys do not think about this when choosing where to start (or move) their careers. Still, the type of law firm they work in has significant and lasting impacts on their career and professional opportunities. You can be the most talented lawyer there is, but if you start in a law firm about to go bankrupt or in one that is not open to developing your skills and encouraging your growth, your career can significantly suffer. Choosing the right type of firm for your skills, ambitions, personality, and plans is vital for success in the legal industry.

published April 19, 2022

By Author - LawCrossing
( 2 votes, average: 3.8 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.