Moving from a large general practice firm to a smaller boutique environment requires a good deal of forethought and may require some significant adjustments. Recently, I spoke with a senior associate that was working at a boutique firm. She had been there for less than a year and had previously worked for a number of years at an AmLaw 100 law firm. I could hear the frustration in her voice about having made a move that she thought was definitely the wrong move for her career. Although obviously a very bright and accomplished attorney, she unfortunately had not considered the significant differences that can exist between large firm practice and practicing in a smaller boutique environment. Attorneys moving to a smaller boutique environment from a large general practice firm would be well advised to take note of some of significant differences that may impact their daily practice.

Culture. Although many smaller boutique firms can provide excellent cultures, the size of some of these firms makes it impossible to ''escape'' the grip of a difficult partner. Whereas in a large firm, if an associate is having trouble with a partner in a particular group, he/she may be able to simply fill his/her plate with work from other partners, thus avoiding ''combat. In a smaller firm it is virtually impossible to avoid anyone.
 
To Boutique Or Not To Boutique

Sophisticated Clients and Work. Some smaller boutique firms have very high profile clients that spin-off sophisticated work - and some don't. An associate should ask for and evaluate a list of a firm's Top 10 representative clients and matters which have been most recently serviced by the firm. Another consideration is the length of time these particular clients have been with the firm.

Viability of the Firm's Practice Focus/Financial Stability of Firm. A smaller boutique's practice focus can have everything to do with its viability for the short- and long-term, particularly in an economic downturn like the one we are currently experiencing. For example, a real estate boutique that has not expanded its practice capabilities may suffer tremendously in a down cycle. Depending on the size of the firm, its client base and financial stability may not survive a tough cycle. Thus, before joining a smaller boutique focused in a particular specialty, associates should consider both the short- and long-term effects the economy would have on a firm's viability.