Working for a SME law firm

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Working in small to medium-sized law firms has its advantages and disadvantages, making it a very different experience to working in a large law firm or big corporate environment.

Benefits

Variety and flexibility

Unlike larger law firms, where specialisation is key, lawyers employed by small to medium firms are often generalists who work on a variety of assignments across a wide range of areas. This keeps things interesting and offers a well-rounded experience. Work schedules at smaller firms also tend to be more flexible, and depending on the firm dress codes less stringent, which allows for a generally more relaxed office environment.

More autonomy and client contact

With a limited number of staff, employees at smaller firms are often given more responsibilities and allowed to perform with less supervision from senior staff. Junior-level lawyers have more   autonomy and client contact than they would in larger firms where only senior lawyers interact with clients.

If you perform well, small to mid-sized companies offer more opportunities to expedite your career path and make partnership.

Democratic dynamics

In smaller firms, everyone knows their colleagues on a first-name basis. There is less in-house competition as there is usually enough interesting work to keep everyone satisfied. Employee input and feedback is also valued more in smaller firms, so staff have some influence in how the firm is managed. Lawyers in smaller firms do not get lost in the crowd and increased visibility allows them to show their skills to their superiors and receive the deserved recognition and reward.

Fast track your career progression

With fewer lawyers and layers of management, lawyers at small to mid sized firms have a better chance of making partner. Ricky Mui, Director of Robert Walters’ Legal & Compliance Division says, “If you perform well, small to mid-sized companies offer more opportunities to expedite your career path and make partnership.”

Drawbacks 

Modest salaries, benefits and limited firm resources

Though there are exceptions to the rules, smaller law firms tend to pay less than larger firms due to limited budgets, and benefits may not be as comprehensive. Limited resources mean that smaller firms tend to have more modest looking offices with fewer facilities and amenities. Smaller firms may not be able to hire support staff such as paralegals and personal assistants, so lawyers might have to do to some extent their own administration including photocopying, filing and other non-billable tasks themselves.

An uncertain future

The financial stability and growth of smaller law firms may rest on only a handful of clients, so the loss of a major client could impact revenues and the future of the company.

Professional isolation

In smaller firms, there usually aren’t senior counsels or mentor figures available to provide training on the job, so a lawyer joining the firm must learn as quickly as possible in order to stay afloat. Lawyers at firms with less than 10 employees may find themselves spending a lot of time working alone which deprives them of the opportunity to socialise, network, seek development and support as well as share knowledge.

Limited exposure

Mui says that one drawback of working for a small local firm is limited exposure to complex international deals and agreements. “With local firms, the training may not be as thorough and detailed, and also size and complexity of matters are not as wide as with international firms. This will mean that it becomes harder in the future to transit into an international law firm as these firms usually want to see candidates from other similar sized law firms, so there is limited career progression,” says Mui.

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