Law firms are often busy environments with ongoing workloads from a variety of individual and business clients. Attorneys who defend or prosecute spend time in court as well as in a law office. Lawyers offer legal advice and meet with clients in person or communicate via telephone or email.
Law firms typically involve more formality of dress, language and documentation due to the nature of legal representation. Firms may employ as few as five people or over have as many as 100 employees, including legal and administrative assistants. Although law professionals spend time sitting at their desks, they often travel to appear before a judge in court or to visit branch offices of their firm.
Large vs. small law firms
The size of a law firm can affect many factors of your job as a lawyer. Here are some of the key differences between working in a large law firm as opposed to a small firm:
Salary and benefits
Large law firms typically offer higher salaries than smaller firms. They often do this to attract highly skilled potential job candidates. They may also have more financial resources, allowing large firms to offer bigger benefit packages including healthcare, vision, dental and life insurance.
While small firms may not always provide salaries as high as large firms, they can offer a faster path to earning a promotion or partnership. Smaller firms often allow lawyers to work more flexible hours than their counterparts at larger firms.
Cases and clients
A larger law firm can manage more clients at one time, leading to an increased amount of cases assigned to lawyers within the firm. Lawyers working in a large firm typically work for a specific area of law within the firm, taking on cases that fit their department or role.
Small firms often assign lawyers on a case-by-case basis. Those who work as generalists in small firms can gain experience in a variety of cases as they represent different types of clients and claims.
Culture and climate
Large firms typically operate in elegant office settings with large accommodations and perks like in-house mail centers or research libraries. Bigger firms usually hire large amounts of support staff members like paralegals, administrative assistants and document clerks. Because of a high number of employees and departments, large firm environments typically follow a traditional corporate management structure with low-level employees reporting to mid-level management rather than connecting to managing partners or executive leaders.
The work environment for a smaller firm may be more relaxed with junior-level partners playing a larger role in company decisions. Due to a smaller amount of support staff, lawyers may handle more administrative tasks. They may also spend more time working personally with clients without the help of support staff members.
Larger firms typically provide a strategic training process for newly hired lawyers, offering mentorship opportunities that connect more experienced lawyers to those just starting out in the field. Extensive programs with ongoing learning opportunities may be offered to staff throughout their time at the firm.
Small firms may provide more personalized training depending on the experience level of the new hire. With fewer employees handling caseloads, entry-level lawyers in small firms can learn on the job as they handle more aspects of a case.