Whether to leave a big national shop for a boutique is a tough career decision and requires serious consideration. When making such a decision, candidates often have many questions, such as: what are the main differences between working for a large and a boutique firm? When is the right time to make a move? We put these questions to our ZSA team and what follows is a collection of their industry insight.

1.     Differences between Big Law and Boutique.

“Given that there are many differences between large firms and boutiques, it’s almost impossible to generalize all these differences,” admits Mike Race, ZSA’s Client Partner. “Having said that, I have seen lawyers move away from a big law firm to a boutique for reasons, including pursuing a high-growth environment, rather than an already established partnership. This may mean a less congested career path to partnership, a larger chunk of equity, more control over the direction of the business, and the ability to be more entrepreneurial with how you develop business, or how you are able to be more creative in the way you charge clients. On the other hand, unless it is an already well-established boutique, you may face branding issues when marketing to new clients, potentially less resources and support, and less ability to attract internal referral work,” warns Race.

Dominique Tardif, ZSA’s Vice-President, agrees that lawyers at boutique firms can be more creative and flexible in determining fee arrangements with clients. She points out: “boutique firms usually have lower fixed costs, which sometimes (but not always) comes with less resources. That means it’ll be easier to offer lower rates to clients without necessarily losing much in terms of Partners’ compensation.”

Travis Usher, a Recruitment Consultant at ZSA, further suggests that the main difference for junior associates is their level of involvement and access to files. “By their nature, smaller firms tend to have an ‘all hands on deck’ mentality and don’t have the resource flexibility to exclude associates from doing the ‘heavy lifting’ on files. Generally, when I’ve met with associates from boutiques, their deal sheets or case files (as the case may be) tend to rival those of Big Law lawyers 2 or 3 years more senior,” observes Usher. “If someone at a large firm is looking for greater involvement on files, I would recommend considering moving to a boutique.”

2.     Right Time to Move?

In terms of timing, Tardif suggests that it is probably easier for associates with 2 to 6 years of experience to make such moves. “After that, transitions are a little harder, given the fact that lawyers are hoping to become partners, which entails being well-known internally and having built a client-base that could be jeopardized in the case of a move. As for Partners, there is no such thing as the ‘right’ time for making the move.”

3.     Your Next Move?

ZSA proudly serves the hiring needs of both Big Law and Boutique. We believe that candidates should take into account of their own circumstances when considering their next move. Part of our job is to help each candidate find the most suitable position by carefully weighing numerous salient factors. If you are a legal professional contemplating such a transition, please feel free to reach out to one of our consultants. We look forward to helping you make better-informed decisions!


  • Lisa Dawson

    Great insights for Associates!
    Small firms (boutique or multiple practice) throughout BC, are narrowing the gap of benefits between working for a large firm and small firm. To attract and retain “best lawyers” many small firms have made a conscious commitment to diversity, pro bono work, meaningful law firm perks, strong training and development programs, innovative technological efficiency and improved leadership.