Law Firm Look: Which Size Law Firm Is Right For You?
Law firm size: it is most likely a factor that you have pondered – or perhaps will in the future! – as you as an attorney. But, what does it mean to you? You might have heard such terms as “making it” at “Big Law” and perhaps have wondered what all the fuss was about. Does the size of the law firm at which you work really matter? The truth is that there is no one answer to that question. First of all, depending on the location in which you wish to practice law, size may be relative according to the area. A “big” law firm in Cleveland or Pittsburgh may be small or average-sized in a place like New York City or Chicago, for instance (Georgetown Law School). Second, even though you may sense a greater sense of prestige attached to larger firms, what you perceive to be the perfect law firm should depend on more specific factors such as career goals, areas of expertise, financial needs, and beyond.
This article will examine law firm size and how size may influence firm culture, policies, and focus. Beyond this, by providing you with the right information and detailed criteria for distinguishing one law firm from another, you may be able to help you determine which size law firm is right for you.
1. Small Law Firms
Typically, law firm size comes down to the city in which the law firm in located. For instance, the typical New York law firm may have anywhere from 500 to 2000 working attorneys at any given time (Yale Law School). As a result, a 200-attorney law in New York is considered “small” or “mid-sized,” whereas one with 70 attorneys or fewer is considered “very small” (YLS). On the other hand, a less major city’s largest firm may have as few as 200 attorneys. In this case, 40 attorneys would make a firm mid-sized; 10 or fewer would be considered small (YLS).
Small law firms vary greatly in their offerings. Some small firms may have no particular “identity”—that is, its attorneys specialize in various areas of law. These firms are called general practice firms (Georgetown Law School). On the other hand, some small law firms may specialize in just one or two areas of law in particular; these areas can be anything from intellectual property to civil rights. These firms are called boutiques (GLS).
A small law firm may be the place for you is if you wish to actively pursue one specific area of law. Small general practice law firms typically seek out attorneys who are experienced in their area of interest and show such a devotion to their chosen area that they are unlikely to leap from firm to firm if they can establish a niche at one in particular. In sum, you might consider working for a small law firm if you have extensive experience in any given area of law and do not mind pursuing it more closely professionally.
2. Medium-Sized Law Firms
Medium-sized law firms can take on a couple different identities. Some may have at one point been a larger firm that broke away to focus on a narrow area of law; some might still have some connections to its larger entity (Moritz College of Law). On the other hand, some medium-sized firms might have expanded thanks to sufficient resources or a greater demand for its area of practice.
Medium-sized law firms also vary in how they are run. Many employ attorneys from numerous areas of law, creating niches and opportunity for specializing, much like their smaller counterparts. Additionally, some medium-sized firms may have their attorneys perform several tasks and work in areas in which they are not necessarily experts but still generally competent. In short, a medium-sized firm may be for you if you have clear interests and talents but do not mind taking risks and “dabbling and are versatile in your legal abilities. Such a range in applicable skills will often make you valuable to a vaster range of clients, resulting in more productivity for the firm (Moritz College of Law).
3. Large Law Firms
When you reach large law firm territory, you tend to find a different level of competition and an overall unique work environment. This is by no means an attempt to underestimate the power of the large law firm and the rewarding jobs that it offers its best and brightest; it is simply a way of stressing that while a prestigious position at a top “Big Law” firm may be an admirable goal for many, you should not stress if it is not for you.
Typically, a large law firm will have more than one office, often in different major cities ranging from Washington to New York to Chicago (American University Washington College of Law). One of these offices will serve as the main while the others are smaller, sometimes—but not always—more specialized branches with fewer attorneys (American). Additionally, many large law firms boast an international presence and represent large corporations (Yale Law School). Often times, larger firms interview and ultimately hire candidates based on their law school rank; however, some candidates may be able to overcome a less-than-stellar academic record if they research accordingly and send out a well-crafted resume strategically, with purpose (American).
If you are competitive (defined broadly), have exemplary grades, an impressive resume, and are up for the work a large firm demands, then you might want to seek a large law firm position. Alternatively, you may want to choose a smaller firm. Indeed, smaller firms require just as much quality and honest work. Again, your choice may come down to firm culture. Understand yourself and where you want to work and be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. If you do this, finding where you belong will be a lot less stressful in the end.
“Law Firms.” Office of Career & Professional Development. American University Washington College of Law, n.d. Web.
“Law Firms.” Law Firms. Yale Law School, n.d. Web.
“Small and Medium Size Law Firms.” Career Services Small And Medium Size Law Firms Comments. The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, n.d. Web.
“Small and Medium Law Firms.” Georgetown Law. Georgetown University Law Center, n.d. Web.