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Law Firms: Small and Medium Law Firms
Depending on the geographic area, a small firm can consist of 2-10 attorneys, or in some instances even a few more. Smaller firms tend to offer a very specific service such as domestic law, or may be generalists taking both civil and criminal matters as clients' needs require. Working at a smaller firm can provide a host of benefits ranging from lower billable hour requirements, to high quality of life, to options of working outside the major metropolitan areas, to helping clients early in your career rather than just doing research.
Students hoping to practice in a smaller town will likely find that most law practices there are small firms or solo practitioners. Consider the lower cost of living and shorter commute that a smaller market can afford you. Many law students land summer and permanent employment at small firms and obtain great experience early in their careers working directly with clients, learning how to develop clients, and learning how to manage the business side of a small firm.
Small firms tend to hire on an "as-needed" basis and do not follow the large firm hiring cycle which occurs primarily during the early fall, and relies on on-campus recruiting and resume collections to fill summer associate positions. Instead, many will post jobs on Symplicity or request a resume collection for either a clerk or new associate position.
One of the best ways to land an associate position in a firm of this size is to work or volunteer for the firm during law school or for a summer. Being able to showcase your work, enthusiasm and loyalty, along with being there when the need for a new associate arises, make your chances of being selected much better.
To learn about researching small law firms, click here.
Medium Sized Firms
Medium sized firms may consist of a practice group from a larger firm that broke away to focus on a specialized practice area, or may have once been a smaller firm that found the need and resources to grow in numbers. Boutique firms specialize in one area of the law, be it intellectual property, commercial litigation or another area.
The firm may be run much like a large firm, and the level of expertise in a specialized area will likely create a niche for the firm, and its attorneys. Other firms in the 10-50 attorney range will do a variety of work with attorneys combining their talents in their own practice areas to serve a more diverse client base.
Firms of this size generally will need some summer clerk help, and may have the ability to offer a permanent position after law school graduation and bar passage more readily than a smaller firm.
Firms of this size may search for help through a job posting, word of mouth, resume collection or sometimes, through the spring or fall on-campus interview programs. Some medium sized firms are hoping to grow, and as such, they recruit on the large firm recruiting cycle. Others only recruit on an "as needed" basis.
To learn about researching medium sized law firms, click here.
Making Yourself Marketable to Small and Medium Sized Law Firms
In general, the small and medium sized firms tend to focus less on class ranking and grades, and more on your ability to research, write, and communicate with clients effectively. Chances are you will get a host of real-world experience quickly working with a solo practitioner or smaller firm.
As such, your ability to efficiently utilize electronic research methods is important. This can be noted on your resume or in a cover letter. Completion of moot court competitions, as well as participation in a legal clinic setting, will be of great value in your search for a smaller firm position.
One step to find jobs in this market is to check the job postings on Symplicity. However, the reality is that many of these positions are filled without ever posting, so students should research opportunities using other methods as well. Some smaller firms do post on other commercial job posting sites. Informational interviews and networking will be important components of your small or mid-sized firm job search. Few firms of this size devote funds to a recruiter, so the main hiring person is likely also very busy practicing law. It pays to do cold-calling to deduce the best time to send a resume, and a mass mailing may not be replied to immediately, but will give you a reason to follow up later.
A simple resource for attorney and firm information, which is not entirely comprehensive, is the Martindale-Hubbell Directory. The database provides background on firms and practitioners, and can be searched by geography, undergraduate institutions, law school affiliations, and areas of practice. This is particularly useful for identifying alumni and for obtaining cold-call or mass mailing lists.
Your Westlaw and Lexis representatives can guide you through another resource: electronic news searches. Both research systems can provide a ten-year search of news items in which a specific lawyer or law firm has been named. In this manner, you can discover what types of cases a firm has taken, if there has been any lawyer discipline, if a practice group has come or gone, and possibly find out connections a firm may have to clients, judges and corporations. This is an invaluable tool that should be used to search smaller firms, as well as other employers.
Local bar associations and the directories that they produce, both in print and on-line, can be useful tools in finding address information and affiliations for firms and individuals within the firms. When searching for jobs out of state, joining a local bar can give insights on job postings as well as access to directory information. Some local and state bars also keep directories specifically for and about small and medium sized law firms, as well as "areas of practice" listings that allow you to identify easily attorneys in a practice area in which you have an interest. Consider joining the small firm committee of the local bar where you intend to practice law.
If you do not have success with the methods above, consider a Google search using lawyer or firm names. Consider the Google "Yellow Pages" and "Google Local" searches. While Google and Yahoo news searches will not go as far back as a Westlaw or Lexis search will go, it may take you to other related sites that will be of use or interest to you.
You can also access many full-text news sources through Ohio State's Factiva subscription. Factiva offers the full-text of over 8000 sources including national, regional, and legal newspapers. First, if you are off-campus you will need to authenticate from the OSU Libraries homepage. To authenticate, go to www.library.ohio-state.edu and click "Off-campus sign in" and enter the required information. Now you're ready to access Factiva from the list of the Libraries databases.
As is true of any research process, you should consider consulting with the research librarians at the Moritz Law Library. They are well-versed in a variety of research methods and have extensive knowledge of resources and databases. Their expertise is a resource you should not overlook. This wealth of information will help you to conduct an efficient search.
Once you land a summer clerk or associate position with a small firm, you may find that reliable salary information is hard to find. Again, firms of this size often do not report salary information. Additionally, complicating the salary aspect of your job search is the fact that salaries at firms of this size tend to vary greatly from firm to firm. As such, it is difficult to find concrete information on which to rely. You may make less per hour while clerking in small and medium sized firms, but you may also be able to negotiate staying on and clerking throughout the school year, an option not generally available at large firms.
If you receive an offer to work as an associate upon graduation, you may have the opportunity to negotiate your starting salary. While it is difficult to find such information, the employment statistics for recent Moritz graduates may provide some salary guidance. Please note, however, these salaries are not separated by geographic location, and are merely a range of starting salaries of the graduates who reported them. There are many items to consider beyond merely salary when negotiating employment offers. Therefore, before you negotiate, please schedule a strategizing appointment with your career advisor.