In a previous blog a few weeks back, we posed the following question – why, from the places where we shop for our food to the professional services businesses hire – do people insist on choosing big firms?
We set out to challenge the idea that bigger is always better, and we felt it was a theme worth revisiting, this time specifically in the context of the legal profession. Because although ‘Big Law’ has long been viewed as the dominant force in the industry, there are signs that the tide is turning, and more and more clients are coming around to the notion that boutique is best.
As we mentioned last time out, one of the key advantages large organisations have is sheer scale. Big businesses are more visible, they have greater resources, purely in terms of quantity they can do more.
In law, this translates to big firms being able to offer a very wide range of services. They employ a large number of lawyers who work across a large number of disciplines in a large number of departments. There is an element of convenience here – for a sizeable corporation, they only have to forge a relationship with one big firm, and they will likely get all of their legal needs met.
But convenience does not always translate into value, or indeed quality. More and more businesses are nowadays hiring different boutique firms to handle each of, say, employment disputes, contracts, acquisitions and compliance, rather than trusting all to a single big firm. They are doing so because they feel they get better service and better results.
Built on expertise
Boutique firms are defined by their small size and their specialist focus on one niche area of law. They are often set up and run by recognised experts in their field, who may well have previously run a department in a larger firm. Setting up their own firm gives experienced professionals the freedom and flexibility to build an entire business around their expertise. They will often focus strongly on attracting other leading practitioners in the field to work with them.
This creates a number of benefits for clients. For one, with a boutique firm you can be confident that you are hiring lawyers that are in the top league at what they do. It is not just a case of one senior partner managing a team of juniors and paralegals. Boutique firms survive on their reputations, so it is simply not in their interests to hand your case to someone who is inexperienced or under-qualified.
Related to this, you can also be assured of getting very attentive, personal service. Big firms work on the basis of scale in all ways, including the number of cases they take on. Small boutiques cannot over-stretch themselves with case loads – they don’t have the people to do so. Their focus is therefore much more on quality, managing smaller case books but delivering excellent results with a high level of service.
Finally, all of this translates to boutique firms being able to offer better value than their larger competitors. Big firms have high overhead costs, and will often have a strategic focus on profit growth – which means they will always look to raise rates wherever possible. Boutique firms do not operate with the same cost structures, and are therefore able to stay very competitive with their pricing.
Big law revels in its status as king of the castle in the legal world. But for service, quality and value, boutique firms will always give their larger cousins a run for their money.