California, Small Law Firms

Size Matters: California Love

For the next few months, I am working and living in San Francisco. It’s not surprising, but I have met some interesting folks since I moved here. And, I have learned not to sit down on any public space.

It is safe to say to that it is a different world here than in Chicago. This difference, I have learned, is present not only outside of the office, but inside as well. How? No, people do not go to work naked (at least not many). According to several small-firm attorneys, this difference manifests itself in a work culture that stresses healthy competition in a supportive environment.

Let’s examine this difference in a little more detail….

In my small firm, there were an equal number of associates and partners. That often meant that you had to compete against more senior lawyers to get the most interesting work, and against other associates to set yourself apart as the go-to associate. Criticism was well-known, but praise was not. Indeed, the fact that you did not get in trouble was an indication of a job well done. And, if you made a mistake, you had to answer to The Screamer or The One Who Never Forgets. In sum, it was a warm and fuzzy office culture.

Here, by contrast, people talk about competition and collaboration in the same breath. One small-firm attorney told me that she often compares her work experience here to when she was working on the East Coast. “There is no cut-throat competition here. It is just a lot of really smart people working together and supporting each other.” Another told me that he “was afraid he had gone soft from working out here,” and so he could not imagine working anywhere else.

It is widely recognized that California leads the way when it comes to progressive environmental policy, the number of start-ups, and public nudity laws (note: niche area alert!). It appears that they also lead the way when it comes to healthy work environments for small law firms. Here is to hoping that this policy works its way towards the rest of the country.

Anyone working in a small firm in the Bay Area and have views on this subject, please email me. Or, email me if you live somewhere else and have a similarly positive work environment.

When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments