A Lawyer’s Guide to Working for Small vs. Large Law Firms – 36 Tips

A Lawyer’s Guide to Working for Small vs. Large Law Firms – 36 Tips

large versus small large firmsWorking for a small firm versus a large law firm can be compared to living in a large metropolitan city versus a cottage in the country side. Each have their positives and negatives and it depends on your personal style which one you will prefer. Additionally, your preferences may change over the course of your career. Living in the country side might mean it takes a few days for the plumber to arrive and you can’t get your dry cleaning done overnight; however, it also means that you have the potential for friendlier neighbours, a slower pace and tranquility.

Small Firm Benefits

  1. Varied work and experience. Chances are you’ll have much more interaction with client files at a smaller firm which means you’ll be able to make more decisions and do much more complex work.
  2. Flexible hours. Unlike large structured law firms, attorneys at smaller firms have more flexibility when it comes to work hours.
  3. Lots of client interaction. At a small firm, attorneys usually have more autonomy and responsibility which means they are in closer contact with client.
  4. Relaxed, family-like atmosphere. Small firm lawyers usually have a good work life balance which means their office has a more relaxed atmosphere. You’ll get to know your colleagues better.
  5. Faster partnership track. In a smaller firm, the road to partnership might be way shorter due to a lack of lawyers to compete with.
  6. Get to know senior lawyers better. Because you work in a smaller environment, you’ll get to know senior lawyers better which means you can ask them for advice or turn to them when you’re having issues.
  7. Not a lot of competition. Because you are working with fewer attorneys, you won’t have as much competition at a smaller firm.
  8. Openness to change. In a small law firm environment, suggestions are often considered much more than a large law firm.
  9. Better management structure. In a small law firm, there aren’t layers and layers of management that need to approve changes. Lawyers often have direct access to managing partners.

Small Firm Challenges

  1. Modest salaries. One of the biggest drawbacks of working for a smaller firm is that you may not get paid as much if there aren’t billable targets. 
  2. Limited resources. Because of a potentially smaller budget, you might have fewer resources at a smaller law firm.
  3. Smaller support staff. Again, because of the limited resources, you may have fewer support staff at a small firm which means fewer paralegals, LAA’s, etc. You will be responsible for more of the administrative work.
  4. Modest office supplies. If you’re used to having a top-of-the-line copier machine and a complex firm Intranet, a smaller firm might not be the right choice as they will most likely have modest office supplies.
  5. Exposure to market fluctuations
  6. Not as many perks when it comes to benefits. Because of the smaller budget, smaller law firms don’t offer as many perks as the larger law firms do.
  7. Social and professional isolation.
  8. Little room to advance your career. Many people argue that there is little room to move up because there simply is not many other positions within the firm.
  9. Not as much training and education. Smaller firms usually lack the resources to have a complex training and education program for lawyers.

Large Firm Benefits

  1. Higher salaries and better benefits. Lawyers at large law firms usually start off with higher salaries as they usually have more money available to them. Also, because of their size, larger law firms can often negotiate better benefits for their employees. 
  2. Ability to work with well-credentialed colleagues
  3. Complex and challenging work. One of the primary advantages of working for a larger law firm is that they generally attract the most complex and challenging client base.
  4. Large client base. Large law firms offer a spectrum of services which draws in a higher number of clients.
  5. Lots of firm resources including support staff. Larger law firms employ a larger amount of support staff including LAA’s, Paralegals and Office Administration staff.
  6. International scope. If you’re looking for a firm with a global presence, larger law firms are for you.
  7. Room to move up. Working in a larger law firm means that someone can have their entire career at their firm without ever having to leave. There are many more positions available.
  8. Complex CLE program. Larger law firms have established training and mentoring programs for new lawyers.
  9. Pro Bono initiatives. Larger law firms have the resources and availability to provide Pro Bono services.

Large Firm Challenges

  1. Long hours and billable hour requirements. It’s common knowledge that newly hired lawyers are required to work more hours. Billable quotas are sent by the firm. 
  2. Competitive environment
  3. Not as much client interaction. In big law firms, senior partners are more likely to deal with clients as this is seen as a privilege that is earned over time.
  4. Long partnership track
  5. Higher expectations. Because lawyers at larger firms start with a higher salary, there are also higher expectations. They also get to learn skills of the trade from some of the best lawyers in the industry.
  6. Mundane tasks. Junior lawyers at large law firms usually start at the bottom which means mundane tasks including document reading and proof reading of seniors’ work.
  7. Stricter academic requirements. Large law firms usually have high requirements to work for them. It’s common for graduates of lower-level schools not to apply to larger firms.
  8. Formal atmosphere. According to Forbes magazine, “there are enormously amounts of richly textured snobbery at the high end” of working for prestigious law firms.
  9. Office politics. There is a higher chance of office drama due to a lack of appreciation when you work at a larger law firm.

About Kimberly MacMillan

As Partner, Kimberly is responsible for leading the full-cycle recruitment process and managing the day-to-day operations of the office. She also develops and executes creative sourcing strategies that ensure effective talent acquisition of top-tier candidates. Serving as the main point of contact for clients, she, along with her team, endeavor to facilitate a successful completion for every recruit.

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  1. didarulislam234
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 5:03 am | Permalink
  2. FelicitySandy
    Posted February 17, 2015 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been looking into getting a workers compensation lawyer for my case. It’s remarkably good to know the differences of benefits that are offered between large and smaller law firms. I’ll try to get the right kind of firm that can give me the strategies that I need for my case. 

  3. sfreddson2156
    Posted March 5, 2015 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this pro/con cart. I agree that there are upsides to both. I think a lot of people want to work at a larger, more distinguished firm for the paycheck. Knowing what benefits to expect from a smaller firm can help you tailor your job to your lifestyle, though. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, this was a great article. http://www.msbtlaw.com/PracticeAreas.aspx

  4. reginamariepeterson
    Posted March 16, 2015 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    My husband is trying to become a lawyer right now. He has been debating whether or not he wants to work for a big or small firm. I will have to show him this article so he can look it over. He does like the small and relaxed family feel, so he might like a smaller firm better. http://www.davidrwebbattorney.com/practice-areas

  5. kelseyhiggins
    Posted March 16, 2015 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    I had never considered the flexibility that comes with working for a small firm before. My brother is close to finishing law school and he is constantly being asked whether he wants to work for a large or small firm. Last time I checked, he wasn’t sure which he would rather work for. Though I’m sure he and his wife would love it if his hours were more flexible. http://lawyerpottstown.com/