When Does Big Law Work?
43 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2018 Last revised: 8 Dec 2018
Date Written: September 12, 2018
Law firms have grown from hundreds of lawyers to thousands of lawyers, and the conventional wisdom is that this trend fuels dissatisfaction among lawyers. This article scrutinizes that conventional wisdom based on interviews with lawyers who joined large firms through law-firm mergers. These lawyers offer a valuable perspective on firm size because they made abrupt changes from small to large firms. Though some interviewees echoed the conventional wisdom, others suggested that larger firm size has limited or even positive effects on professional satisfaction. In one counter-narrative, large law firms are relatively diffuse organizations that have limited influence over individual lawyers. In another counter-narrative, large law firms helpfully insulate lawyers from the business risks of smaller firms. I offer a framework to explain these varied experiences. The framework highlights the importance of: seniority, practice-area compatibility, local office attributes, and the manner and rate of firm growth. These new perspectives can inform future research and improve advice to law students and lawyers.
Keywords: Legal ethics, law firms, legal profession, lawyer satisfaction
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