Personally, I was delighted to read in a recent Lexis Nexis survey that 44% of solicitors would consider working for a small firm in the future, with less than two in 10 saying they would choose to work for a large firm. I have been running my own small firm—LSL Family Law—since 2018. I started my firm after coming to the conclusion that a small, more nimble and agile firm is actually the perfect model for the sort of work we do—family law.
Dealing with clients who are going through one of the most harrowing and emotionally difficult periods in their life is not necessarily conducive to a big law firm environment, where a case can be dealt with by numerous lawyers. In such a working environment, it can be difficult to work around the client’s needs and timings. In a smaller firm, we have the benefit of being able to visit clients wherever suits them and establish real, personal relationships, which can make the process of a divorce, for example, less stressful.
There are a lot of benefits for clients who choose to work for a smaller firm—but the same is true of solicitors who opt to train and work in a smaller office. These benefits are increasingly being recognised by lawyers at all stages of their career.
In the past, the path to a successful legal career was straightforward and well-trodden—work your way up in a large firm with an eye on the partnership prize. However, nowadays, there are a lot of alternatives to this traditional career path and more and more lawyers are looking at working in a more agile and flexible way. Often, a smaller firm can provide the perfect environment for a modern legal career.
Here are just some of the benefits I’ve experienced when working at a smaller law firm:
Smaller firms are agile and so able to adapt quickly to changes in the market. Whether this is due to change in process in the legal system or within the firm (for example, using the latest legal technology), smaller practices are able to acclimatise more naturally. This often means that a smaller firm can be using more up-to-date technology than the larger firms, which can be hampered by complex and lengthy decision-making processes. At LSL for example, we work with an AI system which helps streamline the admin for our lawyers.
Sometimes solicitors feel lost within a large firm. This can be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they do not feel they have personal relationships with those more senior who can mentor and provide advice. On the flip side, small firms provide an opportunity for a closer working relationship where the team can get to know everyone well and can therefore be more recognised for their position and results.
Support and nurture
When it comes to development, a smaller firm often means support and training can be more personal rather than a system where one process fits all. Each person is known as an individual and so the firm can cater support and training in areas according to the needs of each solicitor.
For some solicitors working in a larger firm it can feel harder for them to work flexibly because they feel guilty leaving when many of their colleagues have to remain in the office. Actually having to attend an office provides an unavoidable rigidity to the working day. Working as a consultant for a small firm means the solicitor can choose to work wherever and when they wish with the provision of modern technology such as cloud based systems.
There have been so many articles about the elusive work-life balance which claim that solicitors are particularly bad at maintaining an equilibrium. Working for a smaller firm can often allow lawyers to work the hours and days that they wish, leaving them free to do other things such as seeing family, sport, travel and more.
Working for a small firm often means specialising in a particular area of law and working in a niche practice. Although it might not suit everyone, this does mean the firm really understands the area of law, the clients’ needs and the pressures that can arise. From a development point of view, it can help boost a solicitor’s area of specialist expertise.
Quality of work
Being in a smaller firm, particularly a niche practice, does not mean there has to be a compromise in the quality of work. A niche practice has the expertise to attract quality work due to the level of qualification and experience of the solicitors.
The smaller firms can and do suit all types of lawyers, from the ambitious—because there could be an opportunity for them to take over the firm in the future, to those with young children—giving them the flexibility to attend school events or be there for drop off and pickups. A smaller firm often suits a former partner from a larger firm too, who wants to spend their time directly with the client rather than in management roles. It’s certainly encouraging to see the legal profession is diversifying and different career paths are being considered by lawyers at all stages of their working lives – smaller firms can certainly offer a number of professional and personal advantages which are increasingly being recognised across the legal sector.