If you practice law by yourself or as part of a small team and are looking for something new, the topic of law firm size will come up. Many solo practitioners have had negative experiences at large law firms. But if you are a rainmaker with a book of business, you may want to reconsider larger law firms.
Solo practitioners with a substantial book of business often find that large law firms are very welcoming and offer exciting opportunities. The reason larger law firms are attractive comes back to resources. A large firm will provide you with the resources to support your clients while also giving you the freedom to enjoy your work (and life).
You may have disliked working as an associate at a big firm. But joining as a revenue-generating partner is like coming in as the quarterback: you will be valued, and the firm will want to make you happy.
Your experience as a rainmaker partner will differ from your experience as an associate. In this post, I go through why by exploring some of the benefits of working for a larger firm.
One caveat to keep in mind is that law firms are not created equal. If you are considering moving yourself or your team to a firm with more resources, pay attention to the values and culture. Finding the right firm is not just a question of resources; fit matters.
So, let’s move on to the benefit of larger firms.
Larger law firms may offer the opportunity to grow your practice in unexpected ways.
Working as a solo practitioner or on a small team means you are responsible for everything. Whether negotiating a deal or taking out the garbage, it’s on you.
Two essential factors limit your growth.
The first is your time: there are only so many hours in the day, and if you are buying toner or taking out the trash, you are not serving clients. And even if it isn’t taking out the trash per se, doing associate-level work can quickly soak up your partner’s hours.
The second limitation is your specialization. Whenever a client comes to you with concerns outside your area of expertise, you refer it to someone else. If you are a real estate lawyer and someone comes to you with a contract issue, you lose the business. This limitation dilutes your importance to the client (they can’t come to you for everything) and limits your earnings (because once you refer it, the business is gone).
Working at a larger firm allows you to narrow your focus to what you do best (and enjoy most). Others in the firm will do the work that you don’t want to do or have time to do. You end up free from time constraints, able to grow your book of business, and enjoy your work more.
Also, when your client comes to you with concerns outside of your area of expertise, you can still help them by referring them in-house. This deepens your connection to your client while also earning you an origination fee.
You may find that you take home less of the revenue per client at a large firm. But the benefit is the opportunity to grow your client base exponentially while focusing on what you enjoy and taking home some of the fees for passing work to partners.
The work itself could be more interesting.
I like to think of Jeff Bezos in his “garage,” starting Amazon with his hand-printed sign. He probably sought help from a solo practitioner. Maybe he worked with some guy named Jack whom he met at happy hour.
Amazon would not still turn to Jack, the solo practitioner for their needs today. They hire multiple large firms with a deep bench. Jack would have had to either move to one of the larger law firms or lose out on his big client. Without moving up, he’d still have to find clients at happy hour rather than profiting from doing high-level work for Amazon.
That is the kind of opportunity you get at a larger firm. Large, complex, sophisticated problems go to large, complex, sophisticated firms. So, if you enjoy solving complex, high-stakes problems, you will find more of them at larger law firms.
And you will get to take a vacation or watch the ball game.
Practicing alone can be great, but it also means that you end up working around the clock. You may be successful, but you are killing yourself working late, working weekends, and never taking time off.
Maybe there was a time for that when you were getting started, but now that you have knowledge and experience, you should be able to enjoy your life.
Not being able to take time off, whether for vacation or a family event, is a staffing issue. If you bring in business, other people should be able to continue the work, even when you are not in the office. When you take time off, if you are out of the office for a week, someone else will bill on your behalf.
A firm with the correct staffing model gives you options and flexibility. If you are great at bringing in business, other people should support you. If you prefer focusing on the work, you should be able to do that without putting so many hours into finding the work.
You reach a level in your career where you shouldn’t be in the office at midnight, and you should be able to take a real vacation.
Joining the right large firm will allow you to do both of these.
You will get more support at a larger law firm
The correct staffing model means that you have the support to focus on your job.
This starts with having the proper admin support. You shouldn’t add paper to the printer, order toner, or take out the garbage. Coffee, toner, lunch, invoicing, and following up on unpaid invoices should all be taken care of for you.
Many firms even offer concierge-type services to help you manage your personal life and your work life. From booking tables at restaurants to planning that perfect vacation, they take care of it to keep you happy and allow you to focus on your clients.
This means more associate support too.
Administrative support is excellent, helpful, and frees up more time than you may realize.
But an even more powerful lever comes in the form of associates.
In this market, small firms struggle to retain associates. Large firms have bid starting associates pay up to over $200,000, making hiring good associates out of reach for most solo practitioners and small firms.
On your own, you will be doing the associate work and either billing less for it or annoying your clients with high bills while you try to do it all.
With a reliable team of associates, you can put more time and effort into supporting your clients and building your book of business.
Larger law firms also offer marketing and business development support.
Staff dedicated to marketing and business development is a true luxury, right up there with Maybachs and gold leaf on hamburgers.
As a solo practitioner or small firm partner, you know you don’t have enough marketing support.
On the other hand, a large firm can deliver interesting prospects to you while supporting your efforts to convert them to clients. This support often includes:
- Social media management
- Marketing materials
- Public relations
- Responses to RFPs
- Legal directory management
Marketing support can be a powerful tool in expanding your practice and giving you time back.
So, maybe a large firm is for you?
At Gillman Strategic Group, we focus on finding the right firm for you.
Candidates often bemoan the terrible experience they had at a large firm as an associate or hear horror stories from other lawyers working at the wrong firm for them.
But large firms are like luxury cars; there are many types. If you don’t like the ride of an Aston Martin, perhaps you would prefer a Bentley. Law firms come in all shapes and sizes – the key is to find the right fit for you.
The question to ask yourself is, what do you want? Do you want more support, a national platform, or high-level challenges? Would you like more resources to serve your clients and a staffing model that allows you to take a vacation?
Remember that being a rainmaker partner at a larger firm is not the same experience as being an associate at a large firm. You will be in demand and value, especially when we find the exact right fit firm for you.
Interested in what opportunities exist for you? Let’s talk. Small firm, large firm, whatever the right fit is, I can help you find it. I am here for you.
If you want to learn more or start the process to find a firm that can support your practice, let’s schedule a call.