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The virtues of partnership in boutique practice vs mid-tier/large firms

Are you 9/10/15 years PQE within a mid-tier/large firm but you’re finding the path to partnership longer than you’d anticipated as there are 6 odd people ahead of you in the line?  Or maybe you’re a Senior Solicitor/Associate considering your progression pathway for the first time now that you’ve firmly established your practice?

At Tyler Wren, we frequently have these discussions frequently. Many people are so busy climbing the corporate ladder, reaching for the next rung, that they miss the wider view. If this is you, you may have more choices than you realise.

What do you desire in partnership?

If it’s transforming your experience into influence, you are vastly more likely to have impact in a smaller firm. The model is more nimble and responsive to change. You can implement systems that reflect your learning and personality. You can modulate the culture of the firm into harmony with yourself. There are likely fewer partners in the firm, presenting fewer opinions to reconcile. Often, succession and change is the very reason these firms reach out.

If it’s that familiar phrase, “work/life balance” – if you want to release yourself from the grind of the bloated workload, a boutique is a viable evolution. You can manage as much or as little as you desire – the expectations are set by you and you aren’t answerable to the firm’s board or management.

Many of our candidates from overseas return to practice in New Zealand because of the lifestyle available here. Now would be the critical time to establish your balance of lifestyle and work in a way that works for you long-term.

If the move is about reputation and stature, you may want to work somewhere where your name can be on the door. You might have to work harder to influence within the profession when downsizing to a boutique, but your service to your clients and the reputation you create with them may be enhanced. You can give more personal service, lead in a space you forge – away from the corporate politics.

Profitability for an equity partner can also be quite handsome at a healthy boutique. You may assume more responsibility, but as in all cases where this is true, greater rewards can be gained from doing so. You will likely find a faster route to a strong equity stake in a profitable partnership in boutique practice. The information we hear may surprise you.

So, what’s the downside? Consider now what fee blocks/clients you can bring with you. Many large firms apply a restraint of trade and clients are often “firm wide” and won’t always be able to follow their favourite solicitor. If you are a Senior Associate, looking at how you can address this concern is critical to a successful transition. Can you evidence your capacity for business development? If you’re a Senior Solicitor/Associate, moving now, with your big firm experience in the bag, will allow you to build the space you need to ascend seamlessly and with fewer obstacles/delays.

Why not think broader? If this decision is upon you, you are at a juncture that is all about setting the course for the remainder of your career. Is what you like about the job exclusive to big firm life? If not, test the waters. This can be done confidentially and discreetly. At worst, you affirm your path. At best, a new one opens up for you.