When a law firm refers to itself as a “boutique”, this usually carries a specific meaning for both the attorneys who join the firm and the clients who retain them. Law firms in this category are typically small, and they’re staffed by teams with a high level of expertise in a focused area of the law.

Some boutique firms (like ours) specialize in intellectual property services. Some focus strictly on immigration, family, or trademark issues. Some focus on a specific type of client, for example a client who wants to move through a complex process like starting a company, transitioning a business across international borders, or launching a commercial real estate enterprise. In many cases, boutique firms work hard to remain small, and they invest a high level of attention in earning client trust within their discipline.

Since boutique firms differentiate themselves based on their narrow focus, their full-service offerings in a specific area, and their high level of targeted experience (especially among senior members), they have much to gain by highlighting distinctions between themselves and “big law”, or large, faceless firms that offer a complete set of generic services and a lower level of expertise.

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So the word “boutique” is used as a selling point. But when you’re seeking this kind of service, how do you know that’s what you’re really getting? And when you’re an attorney hoping to sign on with a firm that matches your needs and skill sets, how can you tell you’re on the right track? Here are three signs that the boutique firm you have in your sights can truly deliver on their promise of customized expertise.

1.)    Your firm relies on teamwork.

At truly boutique firms, all the attorneys depend on each other and work together closely. They combine their years of experience and maintain comprehensive brief banks, so all of them—even less experienced members—are ready for almost any imaginable legal situation that might arise in their area.

2.)    New associates have opportunities for growth and a high bar of expectation.

Unlike the “big law” experience, smaller firms can offer direct, targeted and very valuable mentoring opportunities, which means new attorneys can build their knowledge base quickly. They can also dive right in and contribute to written archives and experience banks, especially when their own cases present new or unusual legal challenges. In fact, they aren’t just encouraged to dive in; it’s expected. Over time, those who aren’t carrying their weight tend to leave, while committed experts tend to stay and grow.

3.)    Bureaucracy and competition are both low.

Smaller firms are typically not held back by bureaucratic hassles related to staffing policy, billing details, credit disputes, dress codes, and the other minor hang ups that both streamline and bog down larger firms. On the same note, due to the nature of their client needs, small firms typically collaborate rather than compete with each other. Collegiality, cordiality, and referrals are all common among smaller firms, which works to the benefit of both clients and staff.

Is the boutique experience right for you? Contact us to learn more, and meanwhile, take a look at this video to hear Andrew Dick, CEO of Select Counsel, discuss how small-firm lawyers are working together to build a community (full disclosure, we are part of the Select Counsel network).

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