Small and Medium Law Firms

What constitutes a small or medium firm? The terms "small" and "medium/mid-size" are relative, depending on the market or region within the U.S. For example, the size of a small or medium firm in New York City or Washington, D.C. is different than that in Denver or Cleveland. Regardless of how they are categorized, smaller firms provide employment to a significant percentage of the private sector: the ABA reported in 2012 that approximately 70% of attorneys in the private sector practice in firms with 20 or fewer attorneys.

Practice. A small firm can have a diversified practice, in that its attorneys practice in various areas of the law. Such a firm is known as a general practice firm. A small firm can also specialize in particular areas of law, such as patent, tax, or civil rights, and is referred to as a boutique firm because of its specialty practice area. Either type of firm can have sophisticated, complex practices with a diverse client base ranging from Fortune 500 companies to middle market firms to "Mom and Pop" businesses to individuals. There is a tremendous opportunity to define your practice and take responsibility early in this sector; accordingly, small firms target attorneys who can demonstrate a commitment to a particular type of practice and who have hands-on experience that will allow them to make a contribution immediately.

Recruiting and Timing. One feature that many small firms have in common is that they do not follow predictable hiring cycles for entry-level attorneys. Because these firms tend to hire only to fill a position when an employee leaves or when business demands, it is difficult to define a recruiting "season" for this sector. Many firms say that they prefer attorneys who have experience, as the firms may not have the time or resources to train junior lawyers. These hiring practices extend to summer employment: classes tend to be smaller, if they exist at all; and it is far less common for small and mid-size firms to make permanent offers to summer associates.

Outreach. Employers in this sector typically rely on word of mouth and personal referrals in hiring interns ("clerks"), summer associates, and permanent attorneys – networking therefore is a key component of the job search process. You will want to review the resources on our Networking and Relationship-Building page, including the Guide to Informational Interviewing, and develop a LinkedIn presence early in your law school career.

The resources below contain valuable information on seeking out, evaluating, and connecting to firms outside the "Biglaw" world.

Georgetown-sponsored Recruiting Programs
Georgetown-sponsored Programs
Print Resources (available in the OCS Library)
  • Choosing Small, Choosing Smart: Job Search Strategies for Lawyers in the Small Firm Market, Donna Gerson (NALP, 2012)
  • Small Firms, Big Opportunity: How to Get Hired (and Succeed) in the New Legal Economy (The New Lawyer's Survival Guide, Vol. 2) (2012)
  • How to Start and Build a Law Practice, Jay Foonberg (ABA 3rd edition 1991)
  • Negotiating with Small Firms (NALP pamphlet 2004)
  • Guide to Small Firm Employment (NALP pamphlet 2004)

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