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Why Small Firms Should Hire for the Long Term

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 15, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When it comes to the whole hiring game, there is a fundamental difference between the BigLaw paradigm and the small practice paradigm. One of the most glaring differences? Money and perks.

In fact, just the prestige of going to a large law firm is oftentimes enough to lure new grads. It's true, small firms have it tougher when it comes to choosing the cream of the crop. But they really should be looking for different qualities in a new hire. In a word: loyalty.

The Game

It can be a bloodbath at BigLaw. In the words of Mark Herrmann, if the associate doesn't perform, "just pluck that associate out of your life." The implication being, of course, that there are plenty of others who are more than willing to take his place. Many of these attorneys stay treading water at BigLaw driven by a combination of hubris (a deluded belief in their entitlement as partner) or by a constant fear of being given the pink slip. It's Machiavellian and it works because there's money behind it all.

How Small Firms Should Work

Money makes the world go round. But small firms don't have the kind of money or perks that BigLaw can dangle out in the marketplace. When reviewing resumes, smaller law firms should take time to review a candidate's work product and personality. You shouldn't immediately worry if they didn't graduate magna cum laude from their school.

The best scenario is the firm starting out small and hiring good attorneys who have character traits that work well with other employees in the firm. Do not underestimate the importance of compatibility. Since smaller firms employ flat rates these days, everything needs to be running smoothly in order for the business to grow. This means that you can offer a percentage in the business as things get better. At that point, it isn't just about loyalty: it's their own skin in the game, too.

So small firms shouldn't focus on enticing new grads with money: you just can't compete with the big boys. At least, you can't in the beginning. Focus on emphasizing a more close-knit working group can foster something that will pay dividends over the years, and might even make the practice of law pleasant again.

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