Little or large? Why smaller firms can provide bigger career opportunities for aspiring lawyers

For most aspiring students pursuing a career in law, the light at the end of a laborious tunnel of tests and training takes the form of a reputable, large law firm. As well as the prestige of working for such a firm, these legal practices tend to be synonymous with higher salaries and better prospects for junior lawyers. However, while the bright lights of the big city may offer an attractive start in the profession, the advantages of working for a smaller firm are often overlooked by budding graduates. If you are about to take the first step in your legal career, “go big or go home” may not be the best approach. Below, we identify some of the key benefits of boosting your career through a smaller firm:

More responsibility

Although they are smaller in size, high street law firms can provide invaluable, hands-on experience that combines some of the best aspects of working at either extreme of the legal market. Since smaller firms rely less on support and administrative staff, trainees are given increased responsibility at an earlier stage, often dealing directly with cases and clients. Instead of spending years climbing the corporate ladder and taking care of administration, trainees employed by smaller firms benefit from faster career progression.

Increased flexibility

Regional law firms tend to champion the “work smarter, not harder” ethos, focusing more attention on building strong relationships with clients and retaining loyal employees than working long hours. According to findings from a recent study, lawyers at larger firms work an average of between 70-80 hours a week. This equates to over 10 hours every day of the week. While lawyers in this environment don’t have their noses pushed to the grindstone 24/7, those looking for any kind of career progression are fully expected to burn the midnight oil.  In contrast with their large, City-based counterparts, small firms are much more likely to be flexible and offer more reasonable working hours – some may even offer remote working or schemes such as ‘flexi-time’ to promote a better work/life balance and reduce sick leave.

A commitment to personal development

Kick starting your legal career is a daunting experience, no matter the size, reputation or location of the firm. However, those who opt for smaller firms to begin with will usually benefit from a higher level of commitment to their personal development from line managers and senior partners. While a large firm can attract top talent at the click of a finger, regional firms prefer to nurture their employees and encourage their development. With a much smaller population of staff to oversee, managers can dedicate more of their time towards teaching and training staff one-to-one, ensuring they are primed for more complex cases and enabling them to contribute value to the firm.

A better working environment

Naturally, the culture within a smaller firm will differ greatly from the environment of a large commercial practice. As these firms usually have a more modest head-count, staff members are able to work more closely together and develop stronger relationships. In turn, the atmosphere tends to be much more casual than the high-pressured environment of a City firm. While culture may not be a priority in your job search, a positive working environment has been proven to tackle stress levels in the office and drastically improve communication – not to mention employee morale.