How do you choose between big and small law firms?

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When we asked our panel of attorneys how to choose a lawyer, they unanimously answered with the same criteria: consider their experience and areas of specialty. This week, we asked how firm size might play into these characteristics. Our panel helped point us in the right direction and shed some light on how big firms and small firms are different.

Large firms are typically led by a few partners. In general these partners have years and years of experience. Large firms are started when attorneys become very successful and their business is allowed to grow. As they grow, they hire on paralegals and assisting attorneys to help out with research and litigation. When those original partners leave, the most experienced attorneys in the firm are promoted. In this way, you might expect that larger firms have the edge when you’re looking for the most experienced lawyer possible, but it’s not that simple.

Michael Freeman explains,

The reality is that the average person cannot afford to hire a large firm. But even if money is no object, hiring a large firm is entirely unnecessary for most common legal matters, such as real estate closings and simple estate planning.”

For large firms, the high level partners often serve as advisors only, managing other attorneys as they handle the brunt of the caseload. When these partners do handle cases, they are usually for very large corporations or for very complex cases.

Gary Bluestein points out,

Many clients, however, would prefer the smaller boutique firm because more often they will be dealing with partners with many years of experience rather than the relatively new associates that a larger firm may tend to utilize.”

In other words, for your average case, expect large firms to have young law school grads doing the majority of the work. If you own a large business, then a big firm might be just what you need.

Smaller and mid-sized firms are typically comprised of a tight team of attorneys with a good deal of experience. While they may not be as seasoned as the partners of large firms, that’s often a moot point, because—as already established—it’s rare that you’ll get a partner to work on your case. The point is that when you choose a smaller firm, you are more likely to have an experienced attorney fully dedicated to your case.

It’s always important to choose a lawyer who has experience in your type of case. In most cases, a small firm will offer you more specific specialties, and thus more experience. For example, if you are looking for a divorce lawyer, then you can easily search for small firms that specialize in divorce law. However, if your case is more complicated, a large firm may offer you the better option. Large firms typically cover multiple specialties. By assigning a large firm, you get the experience of a wide variety of lawyers who can work together to offer your case a more thorough approach.

Michael Rapp adds,

They [big firms] have big cases and lots of people they can throw at a problem. If their client has a complicated issue that involves multiple areas, chances are better that lots of eyes on the matter will uncover different issues and will have someone in house that can handle it.”

In the end, there’s no reason why you can’t have success with either a big or a small firm. Choosing based on experience and legal specialty is still the way to go. However, knowing how big and small firms operate can help you make informed decisions about the type of legal counsel that will work best for you.