Boston attorney Maria Krokidas (pictured) always strived to be
the best attorney she could be. She also wanted to have a life
outside of the office. She is able to achieve both at Boston's
Krokidas & Bluestein LLP, a 20-attorney, woman-owned firm that
specializes in public and non-profit law.
Krokidas is not alone in her decision to straddle professional
success with personal fulfillment as the trend indicates. Midsized
firms say that a strong organizational culture is a primary factor
in recruiting new lawyers - and the fastest growing among them
indicate the least interest in merging with a larger firm when the
"You want fully-formed human beings working with you.
Self-fulfillment makes you a better lawyer," Krokidas said.
According to a Georgetown University Law Center-led nationwide
survey, 68 midsized law firms, with a median attorney headcount of
40, revealed their assertion that culture helps them hire. Seventy
percent of those surveyed said strong culture is among the top two
factors in recruiting new lawyers; second was the overall quality
of the firm. Law firm referral network TAGLaw and the Center for
the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law
Center published the 2012 survey.
"The firms in our survey that are growing the fastest were the
same ones that are most careful about their human capital," stated
Lisa Rohrer, director of executive education and a research fellow
at the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession. "Successful
midsized firms greatly value their culture and weigh cultural
concerns carefully when considering possible lateral hire and
In Boston's Krokidas & Bluestein, some clients have been with
the firm for 30 years. The firm's success with client longevity may
have to do with its culture that stresses self-determination,
encouraging its 20 attorneys, 13 of whom are women, to determine
what it is they want to work on. Career self-determination is much
more of a possibility than in a large firm, where it can take a
long time to work up to partner.
BRINGING HOME THE BUSINESS
Krokidas says her firm gets contacted occasionally by attorneys
who work at large firms, and that their big-firm training is
valuable. But the switch from a big firm, often with an attendant
big salary, to a smaller firm can be a stretch, especially for a
young person who has run up significant student debt. "A very
special kind of person can go into a large firm with discipline,
save their money, and be thoughtful of how they train themselves to
qualify for that next job," she said.
But if they stay in large firms, there's a different kind of
stretch that comes along eventually, and that's the imperative to
start bringing in new business - something that is not taught in
law school, Krokidas noted.
Jared Correia, senior law practice advisor at the Law Office
Management Assistance Program in Boston, concurs. "There are
attorneys who think [a large] firm will market for them, but when
you are coming up for partnership, you need to start marketing the
practice. Attorneys have a lot of trouble with that."
THE DOWNSIDE OF MIDSIZE
Correia pegs small firms at 15 to 20 and midsized firms at between
20 and 50 attorneys.
The smaller the firm, the more opportunities exist to branch out
in one's career. However, although the work-life balancing act may
be more easily achieved by individuals in midsized firms,
diminished practice resources have to be weighed against that.
Midsized firms offer less support for functions such as human
resources, marketing and information technology, as well as less
money, requiring lawyers to cover more out of pocket.
In addition, smaller attorney groups often don't have a wide pool
of specialists, Correia said. "It's a personality based thing. If
you want a structure around you, and you're in scenarios where
there's not as much structure as you'd like, you have to [determine
your priorities]." He recounts seeing tech-savvy junior attorneys
who join midsized firms and eventually get frustrated and leave
because they get stuck with all the IT work and don't get a chance
Additionally, there's a business management issue in smaller
firms. "Some attorneys who run law firms are more interested in
just being attorneys, and bury their head in the sand in regard to
administrative issues. This is mostly a midsize issue," Correia
Correia notes that new law school graduates are "gravitating down
the ladder" in terms of firm size. Frequently, they'll have to work
in the nonprofit sector for a year before getting a slot at a large
firm. Others can't find work at all, and start their own
THE RIGHT FIT
Is there a trend of attorneys who spent their first career years
in a big firm to come to smaller firms?
"I don't know if I'd say it's a trend, but it's fairly common,
says Scott Roberts, co-managing partner at Hirsch Roberts Weinstein
LLP in Boston. He paints this scenario: The big firm recruited them
on campus and debt impelled them to accept. The big firm's
reputation and potential for training are attractive, but after
some period of time, "some get frustrated due to lack of client
contact. They're doing document production, discovery, sitting in
and watching, but not taking depositions, not arguing motions, and
if there's a case that goes to trial, they don't get
responsibility," says Roberts.
Hirsch Roberts Weinstein LLP, established in October 2008,
specializes in business litigation, labor and employment law. Many
of its attorneys, with years of experience in their chosen fields,
joined it from larger firms. Roberts notes that associate attorneys
interested in the firm's specialties "will naturally select us." In
turn, the firm can offer them a level of mentoring that they might
not otherwise receive.
The firm is the product of a merger of Sullivan, Weinstein and
McClay, and the labor and employment law group from Robinson &
Cole. Cole was looking for a more entrepreneurial platform, and
Sullivan was ramping down his practice. Weinstein and Hirsch had
known each other for a long time. "It made sense for us to pursue a
like-minded group, with the same core values that we had," Roberts
says. Less than a year after discussions began, HRW was
"We've brought in attorneys at the associate level who had
experience from big firms," he says. "We appreciate the training
and skill set they had. We were also approached by attorneys from
large firms with significant books of business, but it wasn't
necessarily the right fit."
There's the balance. The transition from large to smaller firms
doesn't imply an automatic professional passport, nor should it.
And for those coming into the profession for the first time, they
must carefully consider the risks versus rewards of joining a