This article was first published in Lex Witness October 2016 issue.
Law firms in India offer a wide range of work experience. Depending on the size and structure of the firm, the work culture tends to define the experience the internal stakeholders can have at the firm.
BENEFITS OF WORKING IN A BIG FIRM
Generous Pay Packages – The compensation offered at large law firms are in most case significantly higher as compared to working in government, judiciary, smaller firms, and even in corporate/in-house roles.
Large & Diverse Client Base – Large law firms cater to an array of clients from different industries and geographies. The kind of work exposure and learning curve in this sense can be immense in a big law firm structure.
Sophisticated and Formalized Work Environment – Large firms like any MNC or established business organizations tend to have structured policies in place, especially when it comes to HR matters like appraisals, leave policies and so on.
Global Exposure – Working for a big law firm adds a brand value to ones resume. With the exposure such firms provide in domestic and international markets, reputation building is usually not a concern.
CHALLENGES OF WORKING IN A BIG FIRM
Lack of Work-Life Balance – High end work and constant flow of matters also means long hours, and therein a lack of work-life balance. The burn-out rate of associates working in large law firms are usually much higher as compared to smaller/boutique firms.
Competitive Environment – Large law firms tend to have exceptional expectations on their associates and partners, in terms of high billing and new business development. The Partner track of big law firms are long and strenuous for most cases, and often involves excelling at politic-king within the firm as much as being a good lawyer.
Limited Client Contact – Junior and mid level associates tend to have minimal client interaction, and more of team support role. This can be a big impediment when it comes to growth prospect beyond a big firm culture.
Large Firm Bureaucracy – Large law firms often have many tiers of management as well as complex, well-established procedures and formal divisions of responsibility. This means that a low rung associate has minimal or no say in the process management of the firm, and effectively cannot really contribute towards the firm’s operational improvement.
BENEFITS OF WORKING IN A SMALL LAW FIRM
Varied Set of Work – Lawyers in small law firms are often multi practice focused, and work on matters across a broad spectrum of practice areas. The exceptions are of course the boutique law firm who usually offer advisory services on niche areas of law. Associates working in small law firms are in the enviable position of having the scopes to do more substantive legal tasks with less supervision than their counterparts in larger firms.
Flexible Work Schedule – Small law firms offer the unique advantage of flexible work hours. Of course during emergencies, an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ protocol is put in play. However, the advantages that comes with close knit teams and other perks of small law firms make up for such situations.
Greater Input in Firm Operations – Working for a small law firm may allow legal professionals greater control in the direction and management of their firms. The small firms tend to be less hierarchical in nature, and hence the sense of contribution towards a firm’s growth is higher.
Abbreviated Partnership Track – The partnership track is much shorter in small law firms, not just because of less hierarchy, but also because of the scope of growth available. With smaller teams, opportunities to take on challenging projects along with managerial roles are abundant, which inevitably leads to growth prospects within the firm.
CHALLENGES OF WORKING IN A SMALL LAW FIRM
Continuous Business Development – Whether you’re a new small firm lawyer or you’ve been running a law practice for years, getting new clients is always a huge concern. The struggle also includes expanding on the new business, while ensuring high quality of service to existing clients.
Struggle of Resources – There is an existential crisis when it comes to talent hiring and resource management in small firms. Finding the right people, with the most compatible set of talents and goals is not just a challenge for small firms but also proves to be a huge impediment in team functioning as the firm grows.
Lower Pay Packages – For obvious reasons, small law firms offer not as competitive compensation packages as its bigger counterparts. However, a number of boutique firms is the market tend to offer substantive packages as per the market standard due to the reputation and niche they have created for themselves.
Time Management – Although small law firms offer more flexibility for work hours, when it comes to non-legal work, like business development, HR and administrative tasks, there is always a time and priority crunch.
Whether you choose to be employed at a big or a small/boutique firm, or for that matter start your own practice, ensure to self introspect and identify your goals and aspirations. Your strengths and interests are what would determine the growth you can achieve through the decision you make!