What is a boutique Law Firm [ Advantages of boutique law firms ]
By Joanne Hue, Last updated: 2023-01-11 (originally published on 2022-01-27)
What is a boutique law firm?
The definition of boutique law firm varies although generally the term “boutique” is illustrative of small in size. However, this nimbleness affords them higher specialty and better efficiency.
In cases of boutique law firms, these are usually smaller than 20 employees inclusive of lawyers, paralegals and support staff.
Such law firms provide legal services in one or two specific areas of law instead of covering a wide range of practice areas. They are also known as experts in their areas of practice and they tend to progress in their specialized areas only.
Their main aim is to render the best service to the client by members having extensive knowledge and experience. Where they feel that they don’t fit to the needs of the clients, they even tend to refer clients to another boutique firms having expertise in the required areas of the client.
The referral system used by the boutique law firms acts as a network building and creating relationships with other experts.
The types of boutique law firm
As mentioned above, the boutique law firms specialize in one or two particular areas of practice. There are various types which are based on the specialized areas. A few of them are listed below:
- Litigation Boutique Law Firm
Firms having specialization in litigation focus on both civil as well as criminal matters. Such matters are based upon personal injury, contractual disputes, product liability litigation, family law etc.
- Corporate Fraud Boutique Law Firm
Such practice has its main focus on money laundering, corruption, bribery, tax avoidance, misappropriation and other types of corporate related crimes.
- Intellectual Property Boutique Law Firm
Lawyers at boutique law firms cover all areas of intellectual property law such as trademarks, copyrights, patents.
- Labor & Employment Boutique Law Firm
Boutique law firms having specialization in matters dealing with labor and employment law falls into this category. It includes workmen compensation, discrimination at workplace, unsafe working conditions, minimum wages etc.
- Tax Boutique Law Firm
These boutique law firms are specialized in tax laws with their main focus on income tax, corporation tax, capital tax, property tax etc. It includes tax laws of individuals, corporations and other entities.
- Technology & Venture Capital Boutique Law Firm
The boutique law firms which provide legal services to firms on regulatory, compliance, IP, tax, liquidation and fundraising.
What is the difference between boutique law firms vs. Big Law?
The major differences between a boutique law firm and Big law firm are as follows:
- Less staff members: Generally, the members of a boutique law firm ranges up to 20 members which mainly consists of lawyers, paralegals or other staff members such as law clerks. Such law firms don’t have administrative teams unlike big law firms. At boutique law firms, the lawyer is closely connected with each and every case and its aspects.
- Specialization in practice areas: Such law firms have their specialized areas of practice unlike big law firms which deal in a variety of practice areas. Even within such a practice area, each lawyer has a specialized practice area like a separate lawyer for corporate crimes, money laundering, bribery, fundraising and other areas of law within criminal law.
- Experience Lawyers: The small boutique law firms focus on having one experienced lawyer within each practice area as they know the law well. Members at such firms have already worked for years at big law firms and shifted to smaller firms later in their careers. However, at big law firms, the lawyers are taken onboard when they start their careers and they work for years to gain experience.
- Selective Client Base: The boutique law firms focus on having less and selective clients on whose cases they want to work. The reason being that some cases might not fall within their focused areas and due to less staff members, they can choose to be more selective. However, at big law firms, they have a large client base as they deal in a large number of practice areas.
- Salary: When you run your own boutique law firm, you don’t get a salary unlike working at the big law firms. All the money paid by the client is kept by you whereas, at big law you are only paid salary along with other employment benefits. The big firms get paid huge amounts by their clients and your salary nowhere touches near the line.
- Managing responsibilities: At boutique law firms, the lawyers consult directly with their clients and take decisions whereas, at big law, partners play a big role as you have to wait for him to act on your recommendations. At a small boutique, the lawyer can advise the client without the act of a partner and can also refuse to work for any client as per his wishes.
- Flexibility: The boutique law firms offer more flexibility as you are your own boss and you work as per your commitments. It is much easier as compared to big law where you don’t have an option to finish early, work from home or take holidays as per your needs.
Advantages of boutique law firm:
There are various kinds of advantages of boutique law firm which includes:
- Engaging an expert/specialist: As mentioned, boutique law firms deal in specialization. They believe in focusing and acquiring knowledge about one or two specialized areas rather than taking all practice areas into consideration. A lawyer having expertise in tax law will be able to better deal with and help you with your tax matters than other lawyers who are involved in general practice.
- Less Payment: When you work with a big law firm, you can get to work with a specialist, however, you will end up paying a lot for other facilities provided by the big firms which you will never use even. On the other side, boutique law firms are small and their prices are not so hyped. With such law firms, you will pay mainly for the expertise rather than for other extra facilities which you won’t even require. The reasons for this are less overhead expenses, small retainers, diminished administrative expenses and needs, better focus on efficiency, increased stability etc.
- Personalized services: The boutique law firm being a small law firm, every member in the firm is familiar with your name, the details regarding your case and will be personally engaged in getting the results. Whereas, at big law firms, they are engaged in hundreds of cases at one time, it is less likely that they will prioritize one case over another and a small number of clients at boutique law firms get more attention and personalized experience.
Where you have retained a boutique law firm, you will be assured that the whole team will be working towards your success which includes less mistakes, their focus and motivation to win your case for both you and the firm, and their reputation by having stakes in your case.
- Accessibility: When you have paid so much money and you are still now able to get access to your lawyer because they are engaged in other cases then they are not so good to you in case of big law firms. This sometimes turns out to be frustrating whereas, at boutique law firms this is not the case as you can easily get access to your lawyer. They will address all your concerns by answering your phone calls, replying to your emails etc. Therefore these are the major advantages of boutique law firm.
Disadvantages of boutique law firm :
Along with the advantages of a boutique law firm, there are certain disadvantages as well they are:
- The reputation of the firm is dependent upon the owner’s reputation and his experience. This implies that you have to do all the work yourself because in case you assign the work to any junior or less experienced member then your reputation may be at stake. It takes years to build a good reputation, however, only one bad result or poor services may ruin it all. Therefore, being an expert means you have to remain at a top position in the area.
- Competition: As clients want to take price into consideration while you want to get paid more for your experience. The large firms can take cases at low prices to compete in case they feel their particular area is threatened by the competition as they have a large number of practice areas whereas it is difficult for boutique law firms to compete on fees.
- External forces: Having a specialized practice means that your client base is not wide which implies that you can grow your business only in certain ways. This makes it difficult to diversify as it comes with risks. If you consider engaging in more practice areas then it will make you less specialist in other areas. Where your clients are corporates and suppose their business is affected then this in turn will affect your business and the cash inflow. Therefore, the external market forces have a great role in running a boutique law firm.
- Responsibility: It is true that you will be your own boss in running a boutique law firm, however, this comes with responsibility. Any mistake on your part will only make you responsible.
Why should you run a boutique law firm?
As discussed above, boutique law firms are small law firms having specialization in one or two areas. The reasons why a lawyer should run a boutique law firm and look through the advantages of boutique law firm are as follows:
- Entrepreneurial spirit: If a lawyer has an entrepreneurial spirit and is willing to work on cases by running a law firm then setting up a small law firm and having a specialized legal area of practice like a boutique law firm is the best option to consider.
- Experience: Where you have worked in a particular area of law for a number of years then running a boutique law firm could be the best option. Also, the clients get advantage by engaging a specialist and an experienced lawyer. You will only be focusing on the work which you find interesting and meaningful to you. As mentioned, boutique law firms consist of more experienced lawyers because their focus is on having a specialized practice and delivering best results by offering a great experience.
- Less costs: Running a boutique law firm comes with less cost as compared to larger firms. The boutique law firms are small law firms and they have less overhead and administrative costs. You can lower the expenses by using more efficient tools like technology especially post covid-19 era where most of the things have gone online.
- Technology: The boutique law firms can slash down time on administrative tasks by using right tech tools for lawyers without taking any external help from an admin team. The tech tools can make the work of a boutique firm more efficient with the use of legal document management platforms like Zegal which automates day-to-day tasks and enhance contract lifecycle management. Automating the client intake process saves time by offering a smooth experience to new clients – whilst built-in communication tools promote .
Zegal partners with a number of boutique law firms – law firms assist zegal clients on legal matters whilst also making use of zegal technology to enhance their workflows and capabilities. Reach out today if you’d like to find out more about how Zegal can help you.