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Written by Norman Clark
Published: 10 September 2013
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At Walker Clark, we remain amazed by how many law firm partners -- and even some law firm management consultants -- really believe that the legal profession will eventually be dominated by the global giants. Under this overblown scenario, all the other firms will simply have to be content with the scraps that fall from the big firms' dining tables.

Do not minimize the threat that "Big Law" poses to most smaller firms. Changes are happening in the delivery of legal services everywhere. Large firms do have resources -- such as money, people, and reputation -- that can give them substantial competitive advantages.

Our firm's experience and observations advising small and mid-size firms on business strategy, profitability, and internal operations, persuasively demonstrate that smaller firms can compete very effectively even against some of the best-known and most powerful law firms in the world.

In fact, there are some clearly positive indicators that small firms cannot only survive, but can thrive in the future.

 the special, but not unique, advantages of small and midsize firms

Over the past 20 years, we have noticed three strategic advantages that many small and midsize law firms possess, but which are often undervalued and underused by their own partners:

Of course, these are generalizations derived from group observations, and there always are exceptions in each group. Moreover, we also see all of these characteristics, to some extent, in some larger law firms. But, as the managing partner of one midsize law firm told me:

"This is no big deal. We do this stuff better because we have no choice. We have to be better or we'll be run out of business by the big guys."

None of this means that a smaller law firm is necessarily a better management model simply because of its size. A pebble can sink to the bottom of the ocean just as well as a boulder. It does suggest, however, that some small law firms have hidden strengths that their own partners sometimes overlook.

Can your law firm do this?

This is why my colleagues at Walker Clark LLC and I remain optimistic about the future of the smaller law firm. There is an especially strong strategic case for a small or midsize law firm if:

These characteristics are not the keys to a successful future. The challenges facing a small or midsize law firm in a fast-changing market environment are formidable, even for a firm that demonstrates all six of them. However, these six points mark a strategic path forward that has led small and midsize law firms to sustainable profitability and market success, even in the presence of larger, better resourced, and more famous national and international competitors.

Norman Clark