Future is Bright for Solo and Small Firms

Only 20 percent of small firm lawyers would rather be in a larger practice.

If you’re a solo or small firm lawyer, congratulations – it seems you’re the face of the future.

Large and midsize firms are struggling to find their identities. The traditional partnership model is on life support. And though megafirms are thriving, the real action is occurring in small practices.

Want proof? A whopping 92 percent of lawyers in small firms say they like having control over their professional destiny. Only 20 percent would rather be in a larger practice.

Those findings are from the Bellwether Report 2019 from Lexis Nexis. And though the survey focuses on lawyers in the UK, similar trends have been detected in the US.

For instance, this article in the Wall Street Journal declared the old law firm culture – where partnerships were once the Holy Grail, and lawyers stayed with the same firm for life – “all but dead.”

“There are many advantages of working at a small firm, such as improved workplace efficiency and better quality of life,” writes Hannah Thompson in the Bellwether Report 2019. “The benefits go beyond the practicalities of delivering legal services. Wellbeing is seen as a major plus.”

Among the advantages of small firms, according to the Bellwether Report 2019:

  • Ability to remain in control
  • Swifter decision making
  • Better client experience
  • Flexible working
  • Competitive rates

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29 Firms With 1,000 Lawyers or More
A recent ABA Journal article (which sources the Wall Street Journal report) found that the entire culture at large firms has been upended in recent decades: “A focus on data replaced tightknit camaraderie. Firms closely track how many billable hours each lawyer has logged, which clients are late on payment, and how many hours an assignment usually takes.”

The old notions of what constitutes a “large firm” – in terms of size, lawyer mobility and mission – has changed as well. The new normal is for firms to come together in giant global entities, with talent hopping from firm to firm as free agents.

“In the late 1960s, the country’s largest law firm, Shearman & Sterling, had 169 lawyers,” according to the ABA Journal. “Today, 29 law firms in the United States have at least 1,000 lawyers. The country’s largest law firm, Dentons, has 10,000 lawyers in 78 countries”

And while the partnership model is still the dominant blueprint, new structures are taking hold.

“The days of undifferentiated, full-service law firms flourishing are gone,” says this Forbes piece. “Data confirms the growing separation between a cadre of elite firms and the pack. What’s elite in this context? It’s the premium, bespoke work only a handful of firms are regularly engaged to perform and the premium fees clients willingly pay for it.”

Happy Days for Small Firms
Meanwhile, the future is bright for solo and small firms.

“Smaller firms are considered to be better at fostering a culture of more holistic employee wellbeing,” says Thompson. “One of the other major benefits is better client servicing. Over the last few years client servicing has become a huge part of how law firms operate, and some are still not getting this right. With smaller law firms the client experience is better as you can have the same person handle an issue from start to finish, leading to a better client relationship therefore leading to more work.”

Read the Bellwether Report 2019 here.

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