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Why 'Real Lawyers' Work in Small Firms

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 16, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Where do real lawyers practice the law? It's not exclusively in BigLaw high-rises, managing a team of dozens of associates. It's not in corporate conference rooms or cocktail parties, schmoozing with high-paying clients. And it's not just grinding away at clients' legal issues, either.

Real lawyers do all of it -- the managing, the marketing, the lawyering. And one place offers the opportunity to play all roles: small law. Here's why practice in a small law is as real as it gets.

It Doesn't Get Realer Than This

Here's some Monday inspiration for you, courtesy of Gary Ross at Above the Law. Last week, Ross, a solo corporate attorney, recounted a story about an old friend who was considering opening his own firm. As Ross recalled the crucibles and triumphs of small law practice, the friend cut in. "He had to end our call," Ross writes, "because he had to take another call that was about a 'real' job."

That friend had things backwards, however. "Real lawyers" who do "real jobs" aren't found in the halls of white shoe BigLaw firms alone. In fact, they're much more likely to be found practicing in small and solo law. In BigLaw, you can hide away, or fall into a myriad of only semi-legal roles. There are the rainmakers, who bring in clients but barely practice law. There are the firm caretakers, who manage people, and not much else. And there are those who grind away at work, barely bringing in clients, having little say in firm management -- just working and working until they're ground down and burnt out.

You're the Whole Lawyer

That's not the case in small firms. As Ross writes:

In SmallLaw, we get to do it all. We get to bring in the clients, we get to do the work - because in SmallLaw, you won't have enough people that you don't have to bill hours -- and then we get to handle internal matters like hiring/firing and trying to figure out which vendors to use.

The task can be overwhelming. Whether you worked at a large firm before hanging your own shingle or set out straight from law school, you'll be bound to come across challenges (legal, logistical, emotional) that you're not prepared for -- but tackling those challenges head on is what makes you a great attorney. Or, as Ross writes, "in BigLaw is like being half a lawyer. In SmallLaw, you're the whole lawyer."

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