Large Firms Vs Small Firms
You don’t want to work in a place that leaves your more stressed than a gazelle trying to outrun a lion driving a combine harvester.
Nor do you want to reach the stage in your career where you just feel like you’re treading water day after day. So you need to carefully consider the sort of firm you want to work for.
This issue is a question which faces loads of law students and legal professionals when considering where to make their training contract / job applications.
It’s going to influence your career massively. So what can you expect when working for a small / large firm? All firms are different but you can usually pick out similar characteristics amongst the firms depending on their size.
The best reasons to work for a small firm are common sense really. Doing a good job will be noticed because of your proximity to the partners. You may even be working with them as soon as your employment starts. This means you don’t need to spend years trying to demonstrate to them that you’re capable of even the simplest tasks. It’s always going to be hard for even the most brilliant employees to prove themselves quickly in a large international law firm. The head of your firm may not even be in the same country as you!
It’s also likely that you’ll need to get stuck into real work very quickly. Because there are less staff you will be able to complete unsupervised work much sooner. But this does mean your training won’t be as long as someones in a larger firm. You will be expected to learn quickly and be able to do your job as soon as possible.
There is a lot of flexibility working for a smaller firm. This flexibility could be in terms of working hours, job roles or working routine. However this will depend on your partner(s). But human resources won’t be giving you 100 page documents on what you can do, what you can’t do and what you need to seek permission to do. We think it’s fair to say there is more of an informal arrangement in smaller firms.
Community is another word which is often used favourably to describe smaller firms. Working with just a few others on a daily basis is bound to create strong bonds of friendship. You know that these people are going to be working in the same building, or even same room as you for the foreseeable future. There are no overseas trips and rearranging of departments shouldn’t impact friendship too much since smaller firms usually only have one office. This sense of community can really foster a positive & relaxed working environment.
Of course the flip side of all this is that with the less stress & working hours also comes less money. This will depend on the legal sector in question but in general large firms can afford to pay their employees more. The sense of accomplishment may also not be as great when compared to working for a larger firm. Advising a local landlord is never going to be as satisfying at taking part in a million pound takeover of a hotel business. However all this is very subjective.
Reaching the stage where you have reached the top in a smaller firm could cause a “well what now?” question to pop into your mind. You always need to be motivated to improve and move upwards. But a time may come where you seek an ever bigger challenge. This could prompt you to move to a larger firm…
Larger firms tend to have the opposite characteristics of the smaller firms mentioned above. There will be higher profile cases, a higher salary but with the longer work hours and more stress.
But working for a large firm you know you’re going to be surrounded by some of the best and most talented people in your industry. You’ll also have a much larger team of people supporting you. If you’re a solicitor these extra paralegals and legal secretaries could make your life much easier. There may also be departments who can help you with IT, research and marketing.
International travel is another reason you may want to work in a large firm. Some firms have overseas offices and others may deal in areas of law that have a strong international elements to it. EU law, maritime law and human rights would be examples of this. While in the UK you’re likely to be located in a large office within a major city like London, Manchester or Birmingham. These offices will likely be large, spacious and modern.
The ability to go up and up is perhaps the main reason to join a large firm. Becoming partner will be unobtainable for the vast majority but there will be hundreds of roles available which you will be able to work your way up to. These roles will of course come with increased salary. There will also be loads of different areas you can branch out into due to larger firms usually practising in more legal areas than smaller firms.
Remember that in large firms there will be more competition to reach the top. You will need to stand out above countless other talented candidates in order to get a promotion and move your career forwards. You must constantly prove yourself. To do this you may have to sacrifice other important areas of your life.
What’s the right firm size for me?
So which size firm should you work in? This all depends on what sort of person you are. What are your career goals? How do you deal with pressure? What are your favourite legal areas? It’s just so subjective. The stress and competitiveness you face in a larger firm could actually be something that pushes you on to succeed. Or you may just love helping members of the public sort out their own legal matters without the desire to deal with big business. A smaller firm would seem to suit this sort of individual.
Remember that the smallest firms may not have the resources to offer training contracts. You may have to complete your training contract in a large / medium size firm and then move to a small firm once qualified.
Try to get experience in both sorts of firm or explore medium sized firms who lie somewhere in between the two. You may be able to get the best of both worlds.
This information is aimed at prospective solicitors, but still may apply to other roles like paralegals, legal secretaries and legal executives. In these careers you still have to work your way up too and will often face similar challenges as those described above. Remember that the information above is from a general point of view – there are always firms who buck the trend.