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Career Services

Published: November 6th, 2006

Category: Students

Small Firms: The Largest Law Firm Employment Segment

The Market:

Statistically, the small firm is one of the larger employment markets for entry-level attorney positions for new law graduates.

• At UF Law, of the 181 recent graduates ho gained employment in a law firm, 49 percent began their first-post graduation position in a small firm.

• Solo and small firms currently make up 63 percent of lawyers in private practice according to the American Bar Association’s Issues Update.

• The ABA General Practice Section Committee Update disclosed that 86 percent of today’s law students expect yo practice in small firms.

• Some 73 percent of The Florida Bar is made up of solo and small firms of 10 or fewer attorneys.

Typical Benefits of Small Firm Practice:

• Small firms concentrate on finding the right person for the job instead of emphasizing the highest academic credentials.

• More autonomy and responsibility sooner.

• Accelerated hands-on experience in the courtroom and greater case management.

• Actual client contact sooner.

• More relaxed and personal environment.

• Greater variability in the types of work.

• Faster advancement opportunities— large firms promote on a routinized seniority-based model (second-year associates, third-year associates, etc.) as opposed to an individual’s own industry and merit.

• Not as harshly impacted by economic changes and fluctuations.

• More amenable to flexible compensation plans such as incentives for bringing in new clients or variable compensation based upon fee dollars generated.

Challenges of Small Firm Practice:

• Starting pay is typically less, but potential to earn bonuses, incentives or percentage of new cases brought in develops faster.

• Greater expectation that the new associate will be able to hit the ground running.

• Requires more diligence and selfdirected job search to locate positions.

• No formal summer associate program, but they do hire law clerks.

Hiring Trends:

• Small firms are unable to predict their hiring needs in advance and hire as the need arises.

• Most small firms do not interview on campus in the fall. Some interview during spring OCI.

• Small firms do not have recruiting directors nor hiring partners.

• Timing is everything. Respond quickly to postings. If you have the option of responding by email or fax, opt for that means over snail mail.

• Small firms may defer hiring decisions until bar results are posted.

Finding Openings:

• Law students cannot rely solely upon advertised positions when seeking small firm employment as small firm practitioners may simply be too busy to carve out the time to advertise and search for help. Most small firms welcome and presume that they will receive unsolicited letters of interest and resumes from law students or recent graduates.

• No national directory of small firms, unlike NALP’s Directory of Legal Employers.

• Check state and local bar directories.

• Martindale Hubbell search (although this is a subscription-based service and not all small firm practitioners pay for this listing service).

• Network: Let it be known that you are interested in gaining small firm experience.

• Join The Florida Bar, General Practice, Solo, & Small Firm Section to network with the professionals, learn about small firm practice, and access the Small Firm Directory of Practitioners.

To Make Yourself More Marketable:

• Gain experience. Clerking for one of these firms can be a successful means of securing a job.

• Generally speaking, the ideal small firm candidate possesses the “total package.” They are well-rounded, ambitious and self-motivated individuals with local ties, who can work with minimum supervision while excelling in both written and verbal communication skills, and who can “hit the ground running.”

• Take practical courses in law school such as lawyering skills, interviewing & counseling, negotiation & mediation, law practice management, legal accounting and/or any skills-based clinics.

• Participate in Moot Court or Trial Team competitions.

• Attend CLE’s relevant to small firm practitioners.

• Learn about rainmaking, bringing in new clients, how and why to get involved in the local community, and about trust accounts and billing.




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