It’s common for the successful solo practitioner to have bigger law firms approach them for recruiting the practitioner and joining forces. It’s also common for those practitioners to seriously consider the offer, often thinking the grass may be greener. But what makes these offers so tempting? There are many reasons, some of which are sensible, but most of which are not.
Before we dive into the reasons that tempt solos to seriously consider offers from bigger firms, let’s first be clear on how I define a successful solo practitioner. To fit in this category:
The following are the most sensible reasons to consider joining a bigger law firm:
All these reasons are compelling—with one caveat. Don’t be too tempted by the cross-selling rationale. On paper, it looks great. In practice, cross-selling is very, very difficult to execute well. Just ask any of your colleagues at other firms.
The following thoughts often make these opportunities appear highly compelling for solos:
These reasons are highly flawed. Let’s dive deeper to better understand each of them.
Overhead: As a solo, after overhead is paid all remaining revenue goes to the solo as pure profit. In a law firm, the overhead is usually higher than what a solo has been paying. In fact, I have found that many solos are wooed solely to find another warm body to share overhead. As a legal career coach, I always advise solos who consider joining a firm to look for vacant offices when taking the grand office tour. The more you see, the more you should assume that all the sweet talking by the firm’s partners has been exactly that—sweet talk. They really don’t care all that much about you; they care much, much more about getting anyone to help with the rent.
Profits: Besides sharing in overhead expenses, you now must share profits. As a solo, you keep it all. If you join a firm, others will want at least some of it. Never assume that somehow you’ll be able to continue to keep most of the profits. Remember, the law firm wants you because it thinks it will enhance the firm’s overall bottom line, i.e., to line the pockets of the other partners.
When the math is all considered, the only rational and logical reason to join a bigger firm is that you’re convinced the new platform will increase the yearly revenue above and beyond the increased overhead expense and the new reality of sharing profits. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? No.
If you’ve been approached by a bigger firm that is seeking to bring you and your book of business under their auspices, make sure you are weighing the right considerations. And when considering the question, “Is bigger better?” know the answer is often, “Usually not.” Sometimes, “small is beautiful.”