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Boutiques are the “new black”

Boutiques are the “new black”

Boutiques are the new Black

While COVID was a time of stress and uncertainty for most major law firms in Australia; it was a time of opportunity for the growing number of high quality boutique firms in the market.

The well run boutique firms are low cost, often have a broad (and very loyal client base), are experts in their field and due to high profit margins are well placed to compete with larger firms on staff salaries.

Prior to COVID, boutique firms’ greatest challenge was attracting top talent in a highly competitive market where they have little brand recognition. There has never been an issue with quality of lawyers, clients or pay; however, by their nature they often fly under the radar and get lost in a sea of alternate opportunities.

Initially the shock of COVID caused most firms to press pause on recruitment. However, after a couple of months the boutique firms quickly realised that work was continuing to stream in (and, if anything, increasing) and began recruiting in earnest. At the same time there was more lawyers on the market than people anticipated. This perfect storm led to lawyers seriously considering the smaller end of the market.

The results have been overwhelmingly positive for both the lawyers and the firms. Many lawyers had their eyes opened to another universe (outside of top-tier and national firms) and haven’t looked back.

With that in mind, I thought I would provide a brief outline of the potential benefits of a high-end boutique firm:

  • Quality practitioners that understand commercial realities of clients, deliver solutions and offer great flexibility to clients.
  • On average, salaries are in line with top-tier firms up to around the low $200,000 mark.
  • Bonuses are common, and with a low cost model, they are often transparent and more achievable than at a top-tier.
  • Lawyers will be provided greater responsibility, at an earlier stage. This is important for understanding client drivers, advancing your communication skills and developing the skills that will make you a good partner.
  • These firms have quality clients, both household names in Australia and off-shore.
  • One of the misconceptions around boutique firms is that the training is not of the same standard as top-tier firms. In many ways that is true in terms of resources at your disposal. However, in the well set up boutique firms you will have better on the job training and get more regular feedback (whether you want it or not!).
  • Career advancement opportunities are real. While the majority of boutique firms cannot compete with equity partner salaries at top-tier or equivalent firms, you can actually make it to partnership before you are 35!
  • On average you will spend less time working as expectations are, to put it simply, less! Of course if you are a corporate, banking or litigation lawyer there is going to be crazy weeks; it just doesn’t happen as often.
  • You will get to know everyone in the firm (not just your team) and have the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the culture.
  • Surprisingly technology is often very good. Change can be expensive and time consuming for the larger firms and sometimes they are a little behind the latest advancements.

Certainly boutique firms are not for everyone and in the end, the culture and the partners you work with/alongside are the most important thing. As a recruiter I have always understood the value proposition of a boutique firm and it seems as a direct result of COVID more and more lawyers are considering these firms as an option. So if you are less concerned about branding and positioning and want to focus on the law and career advancement, then maybe, just maybe, there is a boutique out there for you as well!

Sam Gray

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