The Benefits of Boutique Law Firms
By Mary Elizabeth Hammond
When imagining a successful lawyer, most of us picture the often glamorized biglaw lawyer. You know the type—nice office, big desk, fancy suit, and working long hours on a stack of case files. But there are several ways to practice law. A boutique law firm’s case management process provides a different experience for lawyers and clients.
In this article, we’ll uncover what you need to know about boutique firms, such as:
- What is a boutique law firm and what is biglaw?
- How boutique law firms differ from biglaw firms
- The benefits of working with a boutique law firm
- Tips for running a boutique law firm
What is a Boutique Law Firm?
A boutique law firm is a smaller legal organization that concentrates on one practice area. Typically, a boutique firm is made up of a few staff members, no more than twenty highly experienced attorneys, and a smaller, selective client base.
Common Types of Boutique Law Firms
Some of the most common types of boutique firm law practices include:
- Intellectual property: This encompasses copyrights, patenting, trademarks, licensing, and regulation.
- Litigation: This may include a range of both civil and criminal litigation cases, such as personal injury tort claims, divorce and family law cases, contract disputes, and so on.
- Tax law: Boutique law firms that specialize in tax law may cover laws of individuals, corporations, and entities. This can include income tax, property tax, export tax, or business tax.
Different Types of Law: Biglaw vs. Boutique Firms
What is biglaw? As the name implies, biglaw firms are the largest and most successful law firms in the country. Typically, biglaw firms may employ hundreds or thousands of staff members and lawyers, and are typically located in major cities
Below are some of the main differences between biglaw and boutique law firms.
Biglaw firms are designed to offer a wide range of legal services in order to gain more clientele. This means they can also serve clients with multiple needs. Boutique law firms, on the other hand, tend to concentrate on a specific practice area and employ lawyers who are well versed in this specialty.
Boutique law firms have fewer staff members and lawyers. They often employ paralegals, clerks, and attorneys, and employees may need to wear multiple hats. Whereas biglaw firms have a large staff size with full administrative teams and more resources. They also may have legal professional teams located internationally, to serve multinational clients or organizations overseas.
A biglaw firm tends to take on any and all clientele that can afford their rates. However, boutique law firms are more selective of their clients. They usually only take on clients who require their specialized services—not all clients will be a good fit.
Biglaw firms tend to pay famously high salaries. According to Bloomberg Law, senior-level associates can make $400,000+ per year. Boutique firms offer a wide range of salaries but are often lower than the typical biglaw firm.
At biglaw firms, you’ll find lawyers with different backgrounds and experience levels. There may be newer, less experienced attorneys, as well as partners with decades of experience in various types of law. Boutique firms tend to employ lawyers with more experience who are highly knowledgeable about their concentrated area of law.
A biglaw firm tends to be more competitive and fast-paced, while a boutique firm can offer a more intimate experience with a community feel.
Benefits of Working in a Boutique Law Firm
For some lawyers, the benefits of working at a boutique firm will better align with their life goals. Some of the top advantages of the boutique law firm experience include:
1. Client Selection
Since boutique law firms are more selective with their client base, attorneys are not usually juggling multiple cases at a time. This allows them to provide more personalized service to their clients. As a result, they often work more closely with their clients and form stronger relationships.
2. Control Over Fees
Small firms have more flexibility over their fees. Because they are offering expertise on a specific type of law and more personalized client service, small firms can choose a fee structure that reflects that.
3. Ability to Focus on Your Specialties
If you are passionate about a particular type of law, boutique law firms may be a great fit. In this setting, attorneys can build their skills in a focused area, rather than general practice areas. This can help you get ahead in your career as you gain experience in a niche practice area.
4. Strong Work Culture
Boutique law firms have the potential to offer a strong, positive, and tightly-knit work culture. Lawyers have the opportunity to work closely with other team members and clients, forging deeper bonds. Hard work and achievements are recognized and rewarded more often due to the smaller staff size. The culture of boutique law firms also tends to be more relaxed and less competitive than that of a biglaw or even typical law firm.
Tips on Running Your Own Boutique Law Firm
1. Develop Strong Relationships With Your Clients
Boutique law firms are expected to offer a more client-centered experience due to their smaller caseload and more carefully selected client base. The key to a solid client-lawyer relationship is clear communication. Easily keep your clients updated on all that is going on with their case or matter with software that enables you to directly message or even text your client (without giving out your personal information).
2. Have a Solid Method for Case Management
Clients notice when they are an afterthought or when a lawyer is juggling too much. That’s why it’s important to quickly respond to potential clients and leads, keep track of case details, and remain organized at all times.
Legal case management software, such as MyCase, can help you build customized client intake forms, effectively manage cases, and keep up to date on tasks related to a case or matter.
3. Document Time Spent on Cases
One of the most important (and tedious) tasks for a lawyer is tracking their time. In our MyCase 2021 Industry Report, which surveyed 2,000 legal professionals, 61% of lawyers stated that capturing billable time was a challenge for their firms. Additionally, 34% said their firm saved 6+ hours each month per lawyer because of time-tracking software.
Plan, report, and track time spent on each case to ensure you are taking full advantage of billable time.
4. Be Consistent With Your Billing and Invoicing
Keeping track of your billing and expenses is a vital, time-consuming task, and non-billable task. You can keep track of cash flow by utilizing legal software to get a complete overview of your firm’s accounts receivable and financial status. You’ll also save hours of time with automated invoices and follow-ups.
According to our 2021 Industry Report, 38% of those surveyed said they saved at least 6 hours a month by using software with invoicing features.
5. Provide Your Clients With Different Payment Options
The 2021 Industry Report also reveals that getting paid was a challenge for 73% of attorney respondents. And 61% stated that their firms collected more money because of online payment processing.
Make it easier for your clients to pay you by offering different ways to pay. Adopt online payment capabilities and payment plan options to provide a better client experience and increase collection rates.
6. Stay Up to Date With Your Firm’s Finances
Running a boutique law firm is similar to running a small business, which means financial decisions can be make or break. Informing your decisions with data will give you some peace of mind. Gain financial insights into your firm for a holistic view of its performance and growth potential.
7. Invest in Marketing to Grow Your Firm
Boutique law firms tend to be smaller, but there is always an opportunity to grow. Investing in marketing and building an optimized website can help you position your firm as a leader in the industry and reach your ideal client base, whether your law firm is virtual or in person. Refer to the ABA’s solo and small firm resource center for tips on growing your firm.
Boutique Law Firms: Are They Right for You?
If you are deciding whether a boutique law firm is the right fit, consider the following questions:
- Is there a specific practice area you want more experience in?
- Do you prefer more flexible working hours?
- Is a close-knit work community important to you?
- Are you ok with taking a slightly lower salary?
- Do you prefer a more casual and comfortable work environment?
A successful boutique law firm requires good time management and organization. Biglaw firms provide more legal resources and staff support, but with the help of case management software, you can easily make up for that job support.
Demo MyCase to see how it can help your boutique law firm improve organization and client relations through time-tracking, automated invoicing, law firm efficiency, lawyer apps, and document management. Try a risk-free 10-day free trial—there is no commitment required and you can cancel anytime.