If you have ever had to hire a lawyer, you know there are a dizzying variety of law firms. It does not help if you are in a stressful or unexpected situation needing a lawyer. This post will explain the different types of law firms so that you will have an easier time finding the right lawyer for your need.
Law firms are separated into many different categories based on factors such as number of attorneys, type of practice, number of areas of law practiced, rankings, and location. Types of law firms by size are generally solo, small, midsize, or big. If only one type of law is practiced at the law firm, then the law firm is called a boutique law firm. Rankings are generated by several sources. Finally, law firms may be local, statewide, regional, national, or international.
Law Firms Typed by Size
Law firms may have anywhere from one lawyer to over 2,000 lawyers. These are divided into four categories:
- Solo practices
- Small practices
- Midsize practices
- Big law practices
Law firms with one lawyer are called solo practices. A solo practitioner is usually hired by people looking for individual attention and a strong, personal relationship with their attorney. Solo practitioners may not be the only employee, however. They often have one or two assistants, paralegals, and/or legal interns assisting in their work. These employees help with scheduling, client contact, legal research and writing, and general business needs of the law firm.
Solo practitioners excel at drafting contracts, closing real estate deals, and doing other short-term work. However, solo practitioners can easily become overwhelmed with a sudden influx of work or when case schedules conflict. Moreover, if the solo practitioner becomes unable to work, then you will potentially have to find another law firm. Some states require solo practitioners to list another attorney who will take over their caseload in an emergency that renders the attorney incapable of handling your case.
Small firms typically have two to thirty-four attorneys. They usually have an assistant or paralegal for every one to five attorneys. The number of legal interns varies. They form a tight-knit team where cooperation and collegiality are essential.
Small firms promote that personal relationship often desired while also providing more resources for both the attorneys and you. As a result of having multiple attorneys in the firm, a small firm sometimes allows for a two- or three-person team to represent your interests. They develop complex legal strategies and compensate for scheduling issues with others on the team. Moreover, having a team of attorneys representing you at trial is impressive to juries. Further, well-run small firms that have been around for a number of years usually have good relationships with other attorneys and legal personnel in the area.
One downside to a small firm is that it sometimes is less highly regarded than big firms. They also tend to run into business management issues. If they do not have someone with general business management knowledge, then the office may be disorganized and chaotic. Another downside is that, due to the small number of attorneys, if your attorney leaves the firm, others may take time coming up to speed with your case. Moreover, with fewer attorneys, fewer services may be offered, so you may end up hiring multiple law firms to meet a variety of legal needs.
Midsize law firms generally have around thirty-five to seventy-five lawyers and a decent number of assistants, paralegals, and legal interns. The attorneys are sometimes split into teams based on practice area. These firms often offer a broader range of practice areas and are therefore more likely to be able to meet a variety of your needs. Additionally, midsize firms likely have more attorneys working on your case and available to help you.
On the other hand, midsize firms often cost more than small firms. With more attorneys, you may have a less personal relationship with your lawyers. More of your contact may be with paralegals or junior attorneys, which may feel less reassuring than having contact with senior attorneys.
Big law firms provide the most prestigious representation. They hire only the best attorneys, paralegals, assistants, and interns. They pride themselves on providing only the most professional and elite services. These big practices are capable of handling the most complex cases. Moreover, they value relationships with others in the legal field and often have the best connections.
However, big law firms are much more costly. They often only represent large companies and wealthy individuals. The culture in big law is for attorneys to work long hours and be highly competitive, so you may find your attorneys seem stressed or over-worked.
When choosing a law firm, is important to identify what type of law firm it is based on size. Your needs may be best met with a solo practitioner, small firm, midsize firm, or big law firm. Take into account both the pros and cons for each size of firm and choose the right type of law firm that best meets your needs.
Law Firms Typed by Practice Area
Although some law firms provide “general law” representation, most will specialize in one or a few practice areas. There are a large number of practice areas. A few of the typical practice areas include:
- Family Law
- Contract Law
- Real Estate Law
- Intellectual Property Law
- Bankruptcy or Financial Services Law
- Criminal Law
- Environmental Law
- Immigration Law
- Civil Rights Law
- Employment Law
If the law firm practices one area of law, it is typically called a “boutique” law firm. These law firms are experts in the one field of law. They have the business of that area of law perfected and tend to provide lower cost or flat rate options for their most frequently requested services. For example, boutique patent firms tend to offer flat rates for preparing patent applications or responding to patent office rejections of the patent application.
Law Firms Typed by Rankings
Several services rank law firms. Factors for the rankings tend to include law firm size, gross revenue, number of offices, and number of partners (a.k.a. senior attorneys.) The typical services providing these rankings include:
If you are a major corporation or particularly wealthy person, this might be an important factor for your consideration. But for smaller companies and many individuals, it is less relevant. A better signifier of the quality of the law firm is perhaps how many awards and recognitions it and its lawyers have received. These are often awarded based on the type of the law firm.
Law Firms Typed by Location
Law firms can be classified by location(s) of their offices, as well. Types of law firms by location are city, statewide, regional, national, and international. The location type of the law firm should match the location type of your needs. You need attorneys eligible to practice law where you must pursue legal action.
Some law firms have one office or one central location where they specialize in serving individuals and companies local to them. This type of law firm is helpful for cases such as family law or bankruptcy law. They are experts in the rules and know a lot of the other participants in the legal process locally.
Statewide law firms typically have an office in most of the major cities in the state but not in other states. This type of law firm is common since the lawyers typically only hold a license in one state and it is more difficult for law firms to know the rules for operating in multiple states. Statewide law firms are useful if you may need to file cases in different cities of the state. Your legal issues may be required to be filed in a city you do not live in, but the law firm will be able to help you with that.
Regional law firms have offices in several states that are close to each other. For example, a southern law firm usually has offices in Florida, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, etc. National law firms have offices in most of the big cities in the country. International law firms are usually big law firms with a wide range of services and locations where they are eligible to practice law. These would be helpful if you will need to pursue legal action in several cities, states, or countries.
Sources for Identifying the Type of the Law Firm
When looking at a law firm, the best place for identifying the type would be on their website. It should list their attorneys, location, and practice areas. Another great place to check is the state bar association website where you need to pursue legal action. Finally, there are many professional organizations for various areas of law. Their websites often have lists of law firms in that practice area.
Final Thoughts: What Are the Different Types of Law Firms?
Law firms may be classified into many different types. Types of law firms by size include solo firms, small firms, midsize firms, and big law firms. Types of law firms by practice areas may be family law, bankruptcy law, criminal law, etc. Law firm types by rankings include headcount, gross revenue, and number of offices. Law firm types by location include city, state, region, national, or international. Once you identify your legal needs, it is a good idea to consider the type of law firm to make sure it matches your needs.
I am a freelance researcher and writer specializing in all things nerdy! I produce content for everything from blogs to academic papers in both legal and computer science fields. I love learning more about topics of which I only have slight familiarity.