Most attorneys in private practice are employed by small law firms, defined as those with fewer than 20 lawyers. The majority work in even smaller firms. Almost half of all lawyers in private practice are solo practitioners. Another 20 percent are employed by firms of 10 attorneys or fewer, according to the American Bar Association’s 2016 Lawyer Demographics report. Employment in a small law firm presents a unique set of advantages.
Your Work May Be More Varied
Lawyers in small law firms are often generalists and engage in challenging, varied work across a broad spectrum of practice areas. This can be a marked contrast to the high degree of specialization seen in many large law firms. The exception for small firms is the boutique law firm, which usually focuses its practice on a specific, niche area of law.
Small Law Firms Offer Flexible Work Schedules
The cozy, adaptable environment of a small law firm can lend itself to more flexible work schedules among lawyers and staff. There may be fewer hands to contribute to those inevitable all-hands-on-deck emergencies that mark some areas of law, but a sense of camaraderie and teamwork often provides balance.
You'll Gain More Hands-On Experience
New attorneys and paralegals may perform more substantive legal tasks with less supervision than their mega-firm counterparts because the staff is more limited in a small law firm. This may lead to more errors that could put the law firm at risk unless safeguards in place, but it generally produces a faster-paced learning environment.
You'll Have Significant 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. This situation might be your ideal if you're a people person and enjoy one-on-one contact with those you're helping.
Small Law Firms Offer Informal, Relaxed Atmospheres
Unlike more conservative mega-firms, the small firm culture is often more relaxed. Dress codes are less formal, and socializing among employees is often more common, from major events like a daughter's wedding to Friday evening happy hours. Everyone knows each other on a first-name basis in a small law firm, which can foster friendly, comfortable working relationships.
Small Law Firms Have Abbreviated Partnership Tracks
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 if you prefer a faster track to success.
With fewer employees vying for assignments, promotions, and a slice of the profits, legal professionals in small law firms face less in-house competition than their big-firm counterparts.
Small law firm employees can more easily prove their worth to those in power, making it simpler to garner recognition and reward.
You'll Have Greater Input Into Firm Processes and Management
Working for a small law firm may allow legal professionals greater control in the direction and management of their firms. Hierarchies are often less carved in granite, so senior partners may be more willing to hear suggestions and opinions from staff.