Is A Small Or Large Firm Right For Me?
For many third-year law students, their last year is filled with the normal stresses of law school. However, they also have to worry about passing the bar exam and finding a job. Many new graduates will land themselves positions in a law firm. But which is right for you? In this post, we’ll dissect the pros and cons of large firms and small firms!
Is A Small Or Large Firm Right For Me?
Small Firm Benefits
1. More interaction with senior lawyers
One of the many differences between large and small firms is merely the number of people working in the office. Large firms love to advertise their “collegial” atmosphere or open-door policies between associates and senior attorneys. Even if this is true, working at a large firm can be incredibly intimidating.
Working at large firms vs. small firms might mean that you never really see the senior attorney whose project you are working on. They might not even sit on the same floor as you. Just because of sheer numbers and size, you may have more access to senior attorneys at a small firm. It’s much more likely that you may run into him or her in the office kitchen or leaving work one day. This familiarity can form into a close working relationship that might be harder to foster at a larger law firm.
2. More client interaction
At a small firm, associate attorneys are given a lot of responsibility. Autonomy is a notable difference between large firms vs. small firms. For example, at a small firm, you may be given a number of varying and important tasks for one client. Then a senior attorney might trust you to meet with that client. In a larger firm environment, a senior attorney would most likely take care of these higher-level tasks while leaving newer attorneys to do more tedious work. That means a small firm can give you a more hands-on, client-facing work experience you may not receive at a large law firm right away.
3. More personable environment
Of course, every law firm is different, but small firms tend to have a more relaxed atmosphere. You may be able to get to know your co-workers a bit better. This includes both other attorneys and legal support staff. When comparing large firms vs. small firms, we’re sure you’ll find attorneys struggle with work-life balance just about everywhere. That said, a small firm may not be so formal or competitive which may allow you relax a bit and enjoy the time you spend at work with your co-workers.
Small Firm Downsides
1. Fewer resources
Often the more limited resources at a small firm means lower salaries, less extensive benefits, and less opportunity for professional development. When comparing the pay for associate attorneys at large firms vs. small firms, large firms almost always offer higher salaries. The same goes for the extent and price of benefits like health care, parental leave, and retirement savings accounts.
Fewer resources will affect your compensation, but it can also affect how you work. You may not have access to state of the art office supplies or office space. Your firm may not be able to pay for you to attend each conference, training, or education program you’d like to. Small firms also may not have any means of supporting pro bono work. These are all important things to consider in addition to the differences in compensation of large firms vs. small firms.
2. Smaller support staff
Smaller law firms’ limited resources are also reflected in the size of the firms’ workforce. Many small firms may have just a few paralegals and administrative assistants. Large firms vs. small firms vary in this regard because small firms likely won’t supply specific support staff to each attorney. At a larger firm, many attorneys have their own team of paralegals and administrative assistants. However, if you don’t mind making your own copies, scheduling your own meetings, or doing other administrative tasks, then this shouldn’t deter you from a small law firm!
3. Less opportunity for advancement
Another difference between large firms vs. small firms, is that small firms are, well, small. That means there are fewer attorneys and fewer partner and senior attorney roles. Where there are less available roles in a firm, there is less room for advancement.
Large Firm Benefits
1. Greater resources
Perhaps the first thing many law students think of when they compare large firms vs. small firms is the difference in resources. This means a difference in all means of compensation and professional development. Associate attorneys at large firms typically have high starting salaries and extensive benefits.
Outside of your direct compensation, large firms support attorneys by providing money for professional development and opportunities for pro bono work. Large firms also tend to be able to offer more support staff. These firms’ extensive resources often translate to nice office buildings and other small perks that can make working at one of these firms very comfortable.
2. Room to grow
In contrast to some small firms, large firms provide ample opportunity for career growth. There are many senior attorney and partner roles across many different practice areas. Some people spend their entire careers at one large firm.
3. Large and varying client base
Working at large firms vs. small firms also means access to a wide range of potentially high profile clients. Many large law firms offer a wide range of services in a number of different industries. While this breadth of clients you will likely be able to find something that really interests you!
Large Firm Downsides
1. Long hours
Coupled with higher compensation comes longer hours at large firms vs. small firms. Associate attorneys at large firms often need to meet high billable hour quotas. This means you’ll definitely be working for that higher salary!
2. Competitive environment
Because large firms offer great opportunity for advancement, it can also lead to a competitive environment. You’ll be working with other very smart people who want to get ahead and who may want to make a career at the firm. Some people enjoy a competitive environment, but it is important to keep your goals in mind!
3. Stricter requirements for employment
Because of some of the benefits of large firms vs. small firms (higher salaries, prestige, etc.), large firms have tough employment requirements. Large firms vary in terms of what they expect in terms of your past experience, class rank, and law school.
More often than not, large firms are inaccessible right after graduation to lower-ranked students or students from lower-ranked law schools. Your grades and law school aren’t always tell-tale signs of a good lawyer, but unfortunately, they may keep you from where you want to work (at least initially).
There are many more perks and downsides to large firms vs. small firms. Hopefully, these few insights listed above will give you some guidance in your job search. Sometimes, knowing what will work best for you just comes from experience. Good luck!
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