Should I Move from a Small Firm to Big Law? - Martindale-Avvo

Should I Move from a Small Firm to Big Law?

There’s a lot of talk about big law associates making the break for small firms, but there are also plenty of lawyers who move in the opposite direction. Going from a small firm to a large practice comes with a number of personal and professional adjustments. Depending on your goals for your work-life balance and your interest in legal work, this might be the right move for you. 

There’s typically more money and room for advancement in a large firm, but at a small practice comes the opportunity for a life outside of law and a greater breadth of work. Here’s our assessment of the pros and cons of changing firm environments.

Pros of Moving from a Small Law Firm to Big Law

If you’re thinking of moving to big law from your current small firm, you might have already discussed the option with a legal recruiter. Perhaps you have envisioned a way that you can market the skills you’ve developed in a small firm environment to secure a position at a large firm. So, what do you hope to gain from making the switch? Let’s go over some of the pros.

Chance for upward mobility

Although there might be more access to leadership in a small firm, many lawyers feel there’s no room for advancement. It could be years before senior members of the firm decide to retire or to open up the partnership track to young associates. At a large firm, the road to partnership might also be competitive, but there are also more possible avenues, such as equity or non-equity partnership tracks.

Access to greater resources

Small firm lawyers typically have to handle their own research and investigation, without access to the personnel and resources available to large firms. When you make the switch to a big firm, you likely have access to a firm library, databases, legal assistants, and investigators who can help to gather and analyze the research necessary to run a case successfully. 

Higher pay and more perks

It’s well understood that big firms typically pay more than small firms. Making the switch probably means an increase in salary and the prospect of higher pay the longer you stay on with a big firm. Large law firms might also have access to a variety of corporate perks, like sporting tickets and on-site food and drink.

Ability to use experience

Those who are able to navigate from a small practice to big law typically get this chance because they have developed valuable experience that the big firm sees as a unique asset. It is a definite plus to be able to take full advantage of that experience at a large firm that serves prestigious clients and might be involved with landmark cases. 

If you’ve honed your skills at a small firm as an expert in biomedical patents, for example, it might only be at a big firm that you can work on cases that move the law in this specific area.

Cons of Moving from a Small Law Firm to Big Law

As with all big career moves, you’re likely to make some sacrifices if you move to a big law firm after working in a small firm environment. It’s good to keep these potential cons in mind before you make any big career changes. 

Less ability to take the lead on cases

Even though you’ll come to big law with more experience than the average associate right out of law school, you might still have limited access to the full range of cases you were used to at your small firm. You might be used to offering your opinions or taking the lead on strategy, but those opportunities might be curbed in a big firm environment. This might come as a relief if you want to have others take the lead on cases, but it can be a hindrance if you want to act in a leadership role right away.

Less access to leadership

Although opportunities for advancement might seem limited in a small firm environment, you may nonetheless have direct access to the people deciding on the strategic direction of the firm. As an associate in a large firm, you likely won’t have regular contact with the critical decision makers of the firm. 

You might also encounter a hierarchy in which it’s difficult to move up, or a bureaucracy where small decisions about your working life, like the location of your desk, go through a committee instead of an individual. 

Poorer work-life balance

In a small firm, you might have become accustomed to being flexible with your work schedule. You might know your senior lawyers well enough to choose when not to pick up the phone after business hours. In a larger firm, there will likely be different expectations. You might have to work longer days and respond to inquiries from senior attorneys at all hours, leading to less control over your own schedule. 

Less exposure to broader areas of law

While small firms by definition have fewer lawyers than big firms, it’s not unusual for them to bring on attorneys to work in a few different areas. As an associate in a small firm, you might get exposure to criminal law, family law, and personal injury. This breadth of exposure is one benefit of working in a smaller practice.

When you switch to a big firm, it’s less likely you’ll get exposure to a variety of practice areas. You’ll likely be mentored in one specific area, which can become the center of your legal working life for the rest of your career. 

Make the Career Move that’s Right for You

Regardless of where you decide to use your legal skills, you have options of how to market your firm’s legal services. To increase the profile of your legal practice, talk to the marketing experts at Martindale-Avvo today to see what we can offer. 

Check out our sister article, Should I Move from Big Law to a Small Firm?

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