When I started my own law firm about five years ago, I knew there would be a number of changes in my work situation. For instance, my pay would vary greatly since I would no longer be receiving a salary from an employer. I also knew that I would have more control over my work situation since I would not have a boss telling me how to perform tasks for clients. However, I did not envision how I would miss out on the types of connections many lawyers make simply by virtue of working in the same workplace as other attorneys and staff.
When I worked at four different shops before starting my own law practice, I always enjoyed meeting new co-workers who had different experiences in the legal profession. The workday goes by a lot quicker when you have someone to talk to, and people at the firms at which I worked would generally stop by each other’s offices every so often to chat. Sure, some people mostly kept to themselves, which was fine. Moreover, if people work from home most of the time, they might miss out on interpersonal interactions with co-workers. However, the vast majority of people at the law firms at which I worked, from file clerks to the managing partners, interacted with other people while in the office, and this had a positive impact on the workday.
During the workday, I would routinely grab lunch with a group of people and bring it back to the office cafeteria so that we could eat together. Throughout the workweek, we would also dash off to coffee shops to pick up treats for ourselves and often for co-workers so that we could take a break from work and engage in something other than the practice of law. This has a positive impact on the workweek too since people are not exclusively in their offices working on client matters and have something to take their minds off of legal tasks.
I also made a bunch of friendships with people I met through work. While working at various shops, I often met up socially with co-workers for drinks or meals in areas that were close to where we all lived. One time, I even organized a reunion of people who worked at a particular shop so that all of us could get together again even though many of us had stopped working there. Co-workers can form an important part of your social circle, and this is a beneficial aspect of working at a larger law firm.
Working with many other attorneys and staff can also yield professional benefits. The people with whom you work are likely to be important references if you decide to move on to new jobs, and may be positioned to give you work depending on where your career paths take you. For instance, I once worked at a large law firm in an office that had several dozen lawyers. Years later, those lawyers were all over the legal industry in the area in which I reside, including government, in-house counsel positions, and in other roles. I know that people have leveraged the fact that we all worked together to have access to so many people who can have a positive career impact.
When you are a solo practitioner or a small firm lawyer, you do not have the same connections with co-workers. For instance, the only other person who works at my law firm at the moment is my brother, and we had a pretty close connection before we started working together! The days can be a little more tedious when you are a small firm lawyer since you do not often have any co-workers to interact with. Moreover, it can be difficult to make career connections that can be beneficial, unless the small firm lawyer commits to bar association events and other networking opportunities to fill this gap.
I am not saying that interacting with co-workers is a substantial reason why people should work for larger firms, and indeed, individuals might prefer working at a smaller shop for many reasons. However, lawyers should keep in mind that smaller law firms have different work environments than larger firms and attorneys might not make the same connections as a small-firm lawyer than they would working at a larger employer.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at email@example.com.