The question of whether you should start working at a big-shot law firm or a small one after you’ve graduated is a matter of never-ending debate. However, I have met many notable attorneys who had, at some point, worked with a small law firm. My own professional life is somewhat similar. Although the choice will largely depend on your personal preferences, financial commitments, and career goals, starting out at a small law firm comes with a set of distinct advantages. If you are about to kick-start your career in the field of law, take a look at the following benefits of starting out at a small firm.
1.Varied Work Experience
Working at a large law firm is just like working in a huge factory where you are just small part of a large work machine. As a result, your responsibilities and scope of work are often predefined. Soon, your work will turn into a mundane routine.
Most small firms have limited staff. So, they are keenly interested in giving you more responsibilities. One week you are pulling all-nighters preparing for a trial and the next week you are working on a deposition. Sometimes, you may spend days drafting contracts for your clients as well. As there are no fixed hierarchies in small firms, you will be able to make more decisions and handle much more complex work.
More often than not, success in legal career depends on a good mentor. In small firm, you can directly interact with your mentor just like you can interact with your clients directly. Most small law firms usually have a relaxed and family-like atmosphere. Thus, you have a better chance of fostering close relationships with your colleagues including your mentors.
You may even develop friendly relationships outside of work. You can speak freely and with honestly regarding a case or a work related issue as the overall relaxed atmosphere promotes openness. You are also given crucial responsibilities that require constant monitoring from more experienced colleagues.
A typical large law firm, on the other hand, is more likely to have rude partners, demanding work hours, ultra-competitive colleagues, several layers of bureaucracy, and a constant sense of insecurity. In other words, it is not the right mentoring atmosphere.
3.Flexible Work Schedules
Being a successful lawyer doesn’t mean you have to work on weekends. Small firms usually tend to have a more collegiate work schedule. Of course, you will have to work late hours or handle emergencies occasionally. However, if you are working in a large corporate set up, be prepared to say goodbye to finding a perfect work-life balance. When I started out as a lawyer, I worked almost all weekends while working as an associate with a big law firm. In a small law firm, however, you have more control over your work schedule, especially if you are a senior. As you have a personal relationship with clients (small firms tend to represent individuals and small businesses rather than big corporations), you can keep your meeting schedule flexible.
4.Easier to Become a Specialist
Contrary to the popular belief, small law firms aren’t necessarily into general law practice. In fact, most small firms have developed expertise in a specific niche of the law. Common areas of law that small firms tend to practice include insurance, family law, personal injury law, employee benefits (ERISA) law, intellectual property, healthcare, trust and east state handling, and bankruptcy among others.
In my experience, these firms are often co-founded by attorneys working in the same area of the law. Being an expert allows them to attract a target segment and utilize their limited resources more wisely. In short, you will get access to important cases or work in the field of your interest. So, if you are interested in specializing in a particular area of the law, you are better off working with a boutique law firm practicing the same.
5. Fast Tracked Career Progression
Ideologies and principles aside, every law student aspires to become a successful lawyer (rich too) and build his/her own law firm one day. Fortunately, a small law firm provides you with the right platform to move quickly in this direction. It’s a simple math really. A small firm means less number of employees, which in turn means less competition and more exposure.
It is a lot easier to prove your potential and get noticed. In a large corporate set up, junior associates rarely get the attention they deserve. You can not only land a partnership with the existing firm but also launch your own firm. In fact, all the mentoring, training and practical hands-on experience will do nothing but prepare you to head a firm of your own one day. That day may come sooner than you expect!
I hope the above arguments are compelling enough to make you think about a different way to practice the law rather than running after money, prestige, and power. I don’t claim that this is the best way to become a successful lawyer. However, it surely is a gratifying way to practice law. There! I rest my case. The ultimate decision is up to you.