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Solo & Small Law Firms

Is Small the New Big: A Reprisal, Two Years Later

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If you hang around the blogosphere long enough, you’ll bump against the same themes but with a different spin.  Back in June 2005, I first posted on whether small is the new big, applying some of the themes from Seth Godin’s book of the same name.  This week the discussion on small as the new big has re-emerged, with plenty of new voices and insights, but the same old optimism about what small firms have to offer even in the face of the ever expanding large firms.

In this post from the Virtual Lawyer, Roger Glovsky predicts that small firms will continue to succeed because they can leverage technology to reduce costs.  Glovsky predicts that the changes will squeeze mid sized firms:

What this means is that the legal industry is undergoing a massive
transition, which may take years to settle out. My prediction is that
the number mid-sized firms will shrink. There will be big firms and
small firms, but few in the middle.

And Texas Lawyer agrees, commenting that:

I have worked at one of Texas’ largest firms in one of the nation’s largest cities
and I now work at one of Austin’s premier litigation boutiques. I have
witnessed the added value a small law firm provides its clients as well
as how small firms are using technology to compete with the big firms.

Another recent bigfirm to solo Texas lawyer, Todd Smith is happy to hear about the possibilities for small firms, which validates his career choice.  And he is also optimistic that technology “will
present an opportunity to work with an even broader network of lawyers
than I do now.” (in Todd’s case, technology enabled a recent connection; while on travel last week, I had lunch with Todd and some of his Austin colleagues whom I’d met through one of our listserves. My in person connections with other solos always exceed my expectations and this lunch was no exception).

Bill Gratsch posts more on Godin and points to this post by Amy Campbell who writes of Godin’s original blog post :

May it inspire others to stop emulating what you’re not, and start
emphasizing the unique value and service that you can and do offer your

As for me, I’m still as committed to independent practice as I was back in June 2005 when I first posted on the benefits of staying small.  Since then, I’ve had my own personal setbacks with my firm, including losing to two prospective clients to major firms that cut their rates to compete.   I’ve not lost faith in the small firm model, but I’ve realized that it isn’t suited for all situations.  The beauty of being small, however, is that I’m nimble enough to regroup, reanalyze and build a new business model.  In contrast to working in a large institution where bureaucracy can suffocate new ideas, my only limits are my spirit (and yes, like most people, I do get discouraged by setbacks) and the bounds of my imagination.   So stay small, but think as big as you can!

  • I can accept the concept that the benefits of the mid-size firm will diminish, which will place added pressure on mid-size firms to reduce their size. On the other hand, there will still be a financial benefit to the large firms. The larger business entities still have a prejudice in favor of the larger firms to perform all of their legal work. Without experience in the larger firms, most major corporations will not even consider you for any legal work (in-house or outside counsel).

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