April 13, 2012 Practice Points

Why and When Should a Solo or Small Law Firm Get Bigger?

By Norayr Zurabyan

Solo practitioners and small firms often struggle with whether and when to grow. One of the main reasons that solo and small law firms may decide to expand their employee base is unexpected excess demand for the firms' services. However, even if the law firm does have excess demand for its services, it may still be legitimately reluctant to hire new employees due to concerns over preserving a favorable culture or the uncertainty of future business.

When faced with a choice of too much work on the one hand and not enough work on the other, the logical decision may seem to be to postpone the growth of the firm. This decision is critical. For example, a new client may perceive the firm as not having sufficient resources to handle a larger matter. Accordingly, a new client may decide not to hire the firm, fearing that the firm will not be able to handle the matter with its limited resources. Hence, having more employees may in fact promote demand for business.

One potential solution is to hire contract attorneys. While there are advantages, the solution also has its share of disadvantages. For instance, it is very likely that temporary attorneys will not work with the same zeal as associates because they will be unsure of their future. In addition, clients may perceive differences in the quality of work delegated to contract attorneys over work delegated to associates. Indeed, client perceptions will have an effect on their decisions to hire one firm over another.

Another solution may be to create a group of well-trusted, loyal, and experienced associates who are not contract attorneys and who do not engage in 40- or 60-hour workweeks. Thus, they are available when a firm has a need. Such an associate group could allow solo and small firms to quickly increase or decrease their employee base as the need arises. In addition, an arrangement like this may be easier in the current legal market.

Keywords: litigation, solo practitioners, small firms, business management, business growth

Norayr Zurabyan is at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, California.

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