Boutique law firms, where the attorneys all specialize in one niche area of practice, may be the future of the legal profession. While most midsize and large law firms have structured themselves to offer a broad range of services, a growing number of lawyers are setting up boutique law practices. These new firms are choosing to focus the work of the entire firm on one area of the law rather than try to maintain the general practice culture of the big law firms. This enables them to market their entire firm as being made up of specialists (or the closest term to "specialist" permitted in their jurisdictions) in their chosen area of law.
An article in the National Law Journal about this trend discussed the creation of two new boutique law firms, both of which had broken away from some of the nation's biggest law firms. Five attorneys at the Chicago law firm of Neal, Gerber and Eisenberg broke away to form Chicago Law Partners , while fifteen lawyers at LeClairRyan left to form Murphy & McGonigle. Chicago Law Partners will focus on representing not-for-profit organizations, while Murphy & McGonigle handles commercial litigation, the defense of SEC investigations, and providing regulatory guidance to financial services firms.
Both firms say they will be able to charge lower fees by outsourcing many of the firm's business functions to external services, rather than managing them in-house. This will free the partners to focus on practicing law rather than dealing with administrative functions. The will be able to compete with the midsize and large firms by offering specialized services at a lower price.
American law firms are not the only ones undergoing this type of change. A China Law Blog article discussed how boutique law firms in Asia are drawing business away from the general practice firms. The shift from the midsize and large law firms to using boutique legal services firms in Asia is being driven both by a desire to reduce costs as well as to obtain the services of better attorneys with specialized experience. And Lawyers Weekly reported an Australian Corporate Lawyers Association study that said 40 percent of Australian companies spending more than a billion a year in legal fees expect to give more of their work to specialty or boutique firms in 2010.
Are boutique law firms the wave of the future, or just a sign of problems in the global economy? Are big law firms pricing themselves out of the market because of bloated overhead and excessive billing practices? Is "boutique" a meaningful term, or just a nice euphemism for "small?" Is your firm ready to focus on only one area of law? Share your opinions in our Law Forum.