What is the optimum size for a law firm?

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By Gerry Riskin | Apr 27, 2011

Conventional wisdom says that a firm needs at least 100 lawyers to be taken seriously in the marketplace. But is that really true, and does it apply to all types of firms in all locations? Viewed in five dimensions (capability, clients, reputation, collegiality and profitability), here is an analysis of whether, and to what degree, size matters.

Lawyers and the legal media frequently talk about the size of law firms. But unlike how most businesses address size (annual revenue), law firms seem to define size as the number of lawyers practicing at a firm. Managing partners who talk about growth typically mean adding enough lawyers to reach “critical mass.” When lawyers are laid off, it’s termed “right-sizing.” So with all this focus on lawyer head count, shouldn’t there be some benchmark as to the optimum size for a law firm?

When a firm starts talking about size in the abstract, it is usually signal- ing concern about being big enough to compete for the most sophisticated and challenging work while remaining small enough to maintain a strong client focus — large enough to attract the big fish and small enough to not scare away the small fish. At the same time, firms want the prestige of being a large firm while enjoying the culture and collegiality of a smaller firm. And oh yes, this should all occur while maximizing profitability.

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