I moved from Biglaw to a small firm in 2008. I had heard the term “litigation boutique” used positively. Also, I had heard tales of Biglaw associates going on to small firms and doing great things (although I did not actually know any). But, other than that “information,” I had no idea how to go about researching and choosing a small firm. Other associates who have chosen to go small have told me similar stories. There’s very little information about the various small law firms. Indeed, there is no Vault Guide and, until recently, no big-mouthed small firm associates sharing their tales.
So, what did I do? I got a headhunter and took her sales pitch as truth.
Times are different now. Not only because you have me (i.e., your greatest resource for information on small law firms; except, of course, for Jay), but also because headhunters are not as prevalent as they used to be. This is because, obviously, there are fewer jobs and because a lot of small firms have stopped using headhunters (query whether using headhunters is ever a good idea when going small — discuss).
Why is there so little information out there about small law firms?
I think one of the main reasons is that the term “small law firm” covers a huge number of different law firms, with the only commonality being that the small law firms have fewer attorneys than Biglaw.
In fact, while searching for story ideas for this column, a common question arose: What is a small firm? For a group of professionals who place such importance on the exactness of language, we certainly slap the label “small firm” on a huge range of law firms.
I think we can all agree on the definition of a certain type of law firm: the “solo practitioner” — i.e., a firm of one.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines another type of small law firm, the “boutique”: “[a] small specialty business; esp., a small law firm specializing in one particular aspect of law practice.”
A lot of “small law firms” are rightly or wrongly termed “lifestyle firms,” referring to a firm that places special emphasis on work-life balance. I am not sure if this form of law firm exists.
But the general category of “small law firm” appears to have no accepted upper limit. I have seen “small law firm” defined as a firm of under 25 lawyers. Yet, when searching for the top-ranked “ small law firm” (I have yet to find rankings of the best small law firms), the firm mentioned is Bartlit, Beck, Herman, Palenchar & Scott LLP. Bartlit Beck has approximately 70 lawyers with two offices.
So, what is a small firm? I guess it is a firm of under 70 lawyers or a firm under 25 lawyers plus Bartlit Beck.
Why am I going through this vocabulary lesson? Because I have always wanted to be a law professor and all I got is this dumb column. (Note: I am selling t-shirts to the same effect.)
And, because, I want to use this column to create Val’s Guide to Small Firms – with your help. I want to hear from you about your “small law firm” (hopefully you will be braver than me and do it on the record — and since small firms are big on marketing, this could be some great free exposure). Having some terminology will hopefully help discussing the different small law firms.
I will start. My name is Valerie Katz (well, sort of), and I work at a “boutique”….