Jul 19, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

If you’re already thinking about your summer associate position for next summer, you’re in good company.   Big firms hire summer associates all the time, but finding an associate position at a small firm has its perks, too. 

It’s a constant debate among law students, and there are merits to both.  Let’s take a closer look at the debate and the benefits—and pitfalls—of big law firms and small ones.  Whatever choice you make will be the right one for you.


Big Law Firms

If you’re drawn to all things larger than life, and want a competitive edge in the job market, apply for a summer associate position at a big law firm.  Why?  They’ll give you a clear sense of the political hierarchy of the legal world, an opportunity for supreme networking, and the chance to work with some of the best in the business.

1. Politics

One of the most important things about finding a place to work after you graduate is office politics—do you fit in a law firm’s scheme or not? 

Being a summer associate at a large law firm affords you the opportunity to figure out if big law firm politics suit you.  Don’t be quick to judge though—all firms have a different feel.

See what it’s really like.  If it’s hustle and bustle you want, a big law firm may not be a great choice, surprisingly.  Why?  You’re tucked in your office, reading and writing briefs.  All day.  Maybe you talk to your boss.

Or maybe your big firm has a big case—see what it feels like, and whether you like it.  How often do you interact with your coworkers?  Your boss? 

You should have a clear sense of office politics by the end—and a better idea of what you want and don’t want in a law firm.

2. Networking

Top up your resume with an outstanding summer apprenticeship experience—and show off that network.  You should also plan on getting a recommendation from the firm.

Bigger law firms have fantastic networking opportunities—you will meet people who can shape your job trajectory, if you want.  All you have to do is put yourself out there.

3. Cream of the Crop

The big law firms still out there are among some of the best in the world.  Why?

After the recession, many larger firms were forced either to downsize or shut down.  The ones remaining have proven grit in the legal world. 

They have international clients and connections, offices around the world and around the country, and manpower.

The largest firms also represent some of the largest and wealthiest entities—they have to be good.


Small and Solo Law Firms

If the panache of a larger-than-life firm isn’t your thing, there are benefits to working in a smaller firm, or even a solo one.  From flexibility to internship possibilities, a small or solo firm may be just the ticket.

1. Flexible Schedule and Varied Projects

In a smaller firm, you’ll have the chance to tackle legal problems from across a broad spectrum.  What does this mean for you?  The opportunity to try your hand at projects that you wouldn’t ordinarily be drawn to.

Another perk?  Small law firms offer flexible scheduling.  You work when you need to (or are told to), and you get to wear lots of hats—and see legal issues from a variety of perspectives. 

2. Internship Possibilities

Face it: smaller firms are more likely to take you on as an intern.  Consider applying to some smaller firms with which you can establish a connection.  Maybe a partner went to your law school, or you can ask a professor or advisor for a recommendation.

Competition isn’t as tight for smaller firms as it is for larger ones—and you may have just as rigorous and challenging experience.  Know where to look and you’ll find a great internship position just waiting for you.

3. Good for the Solo Practitioner

If you’re contemplating heading out on your own, working as a summer associate as a small or solo firm is desirable. 

Solos especially can offer substantial experience across a variety of issues and topics—to which you would have a front-row seat, and a chance to work directly on the case. 

If you want to specialize in a “boutique” specialty of law, consider a smaller firm, or a solo firm that can offer you the chance of a lifetime.

Intrigued?  Confused?  Weigh your options.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions—and make the decision the will work best for you.




Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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