Does size really matter (when it comes to choosing law firms)?

When it comes to making your next career move, there are those who will argue that you need to work for a large, well-known law firm in order to realise your career ambitions. Others refute such a claim and will argue to the contrary. So who is right?

The answer, of course, is down to what you as an individual want from your career not just in terms of the role that you play, but also the culture and environment of where you work too.

Here we take a look at some of the key factors to consider when determining what size law firm will be the right ‘fit’ for you.

Does size equate to success?

On a superficial level yes, the size of the firm can imply that it is successful (or not, depending on how few the firm in question employs!). However, whether a firm employs 400 or 4,000 legal practitioners is hardly going to be a deciding factor for clients when faced with the choice of two different law firms.

Large law firms will invariably have a larger client base and a larger amount of support staff, but you may find that client contact is often reserved for more senior lawyers.

So if you are a people person who enjoys having a good working relationship with clients, you may be best suited to a smaller practice where you will have more interaction with clients.

Who offers the greatest variety of work?

The great thing about working for a larger law firm is that they general attract the most complex and challenging clients. This often means that their lawyers tend to focus on a specific, niche area of the law. This is rarely the case in smaller firms.

Here, lawyers gain more hands on experience and tend to be more generalist. They are often more involved in challenging and varied work across a range of practice areas, which can also see their career develop at a faster pace.

Who offers the best prospects?

It is not unusual to hear of lawyers who spend their entire careers with the same law firm without ever having to leave. The legal sector is growing by around 8% year-on-year, which means that more positions will become available.

Although smaller firms may not have as many available positions, career progression tends to be quicker than with their larger counterparts. Because there are fewer people competing for the same roles, it is easier to prove your value to the powers that be. So you could find that you get the recognition you deserve earlier in your career and that your journey to becoming partner happens sooner rather than later.

What differences will there be in the cultures between the two?

While long hours are synonymous with law firms of all sizes, there are notable differences between large and smaller firms when it comes to their cultures.

Larger firms tend to be conservative and more formal in their dress code, while smaller firms focus less on the formalities and are a little more relaxed both in terms of office environment and dress code. Smaller firms also tend to be more sociable, too.

With fewer employees you are more likely to be on first name terms with everyone else in the firm, and this often results in closer working and personal relationships between colleagues compared to what you may experience in larger firms.

What about the perks?

It is true that one of the biggest drawbacks of working for a smaller firm is that the earning potential may not always be as competitive as what you could potentially earn with a larger firm.

Large firms also tend to provide better benefits too and they have more resources to provide ongoing training and development. But remuneration isn’t everything – smaller firms give you a greater degree of control and flexibility.

Indeed, where larger employers tend to win the wage war their structure often means they are less flexible when it comes to working hours and receptiveness to new ideas.

Hierarchies within smaller law firms are less carved in stone and that often means that senior partners are more willing – and even encourage – suggestions from the rest of the team.

 

No one really knows what the culture of a firm is like until you see it for yourself. The trick to unearthing the information that you need to make an informed decision over which firm’s culture is likely to be the right fit for you is to do your homework.

Research the firm online, take a look at employee reviews on Glassdoor, follow them on social media to get an understanding of what is important to them, and ask questions at your interview…lots of questions.

Better still, ask to be shown around and speak to those already working there. The more information you have to hand, the easier your decision will become.