For Canadian lawyers in search of their ideal firm, one size does not fit all.
From salary considerations to caseload and firm culture, lawyers must consider a number of factors when deciding between small, midsize, and large firms.
So, whether you’re an experienced lawyer with decades of practice under your belt, or fresh out of law school, this post will help you determine what size firm to focus on during your employment journey.
Smaller firms aren’t too different from solo law offices. They typically specialize in a single area of law (meaning you won’t be exposed to a range of practice areas), and the culture can be quite tightknit. This makes sense, as smaller offices tend to employ 15 or fewer staff.
Generally, these smaller firms feature just two partners, and they hire associates on an as-needed basis. They tend to form close relationships with clients and could include plenty of upward mobility as the firm itself continues to grow.
While many lawyers appreciate boutique firms’ small size, there are a few things to consider here. As stated earlier, your focus will be quite specialized right from the start. And due to the lack of lockstep compensation, there’s no guarantee your salary will increase with seniority (at least not right away).
Midsize law firms may staff 50 or so lawyers. Some sources cap these firms at 75 legal staff, while others consider the “midsize” range a bit broader—anywhere from 16 to 350 lawyers. The exact criteria will vary depending on your location. A midsize firm in Calgary, for example, will employ fewer lawyers than a small-town law office.
The benefits of these law firms are equally expansive. Midsize firms generally hire both associates and seasoned lawyers across several practice areas. They often attract midsize businesses as clients, and they may accept rolling applications for associates as they grow. In addition, a midsize law firm is more likely to offer partnership track and higher pay, although non-equity partner roles are more common here than in large law firms.
Though the culture is less intimate than it might be in a boutique firm, midsize law offices tend to be more diverse. Legal team members will often work in groups as well, so there are plenty of opportunities to work closely with some of your colleagues.
In both the U.S. and here in Canada, large firms make up what’s known as “BigLaw.” These are the firms recruiting law students right from campus, advertising their high-stakes cases, impressive salaries, and massive networks.
These prestigious firms employ hundreds or even thousands of lawyers and support staff. While the partnership track is available, achieving partner status is generally more competitive. The perks, though, could outweigh the drawbacks of BigLaw (which may include long hours and a cutthroat environment).
The benefits include seamless transfers across locations, sophisticated technology, and more support staff. Not only that, but the lockstep compensation model features high salaries and ample room for growth—especially given the required number of billable hours. And according to some, the diverse culture and overall work environment are hard to beat.
So, what do you think? Have you determined what size law firm is right for you? As outlined above, different size firms tend to have different cultures, salary ranges, and opportunities for growth. That said, they each offer a unique blend of pros and cons—and you really can’t go wrong if you are clear about what matters to you professionally, and personally.
Need help deciding what size law firm to choose? My name is Stacy Cowan, and as the founder of the Calgary-based Urban Legal Recruitment, I match partners, associates, and in-house legal counsel with the best firms and companies for their needs and qualifications.
Choosing which firm to apply your hard-earned skills to is no simple task. It totally varies from person to person, and the pros and cons of different size firms are somewhat complex.
So, why not connect with me to take those next steps? I can help you navigate a range of firms looking for top talent and connect you with your next role. Please contact me for more information, or submit your resume to get started on your search. I look forward to hearing from you!