Canadian law office structure

Published: 12th June 2009
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Law offices vary in size from single lawyer firms to large, multinational entities. To understand how an office is typically setup the surrounding climates must be taken into consideration. Smaller firms tend to be more specialized to a certain branch of law. Larger firms with huge stores of experienced attorneys are able to take on a broader variety of cases, knowing that someone amongst their ranks can handle the case.
Specialization. The firm's ability to handle different types of cases can grow as the firm expands. In a small firm with a handful of lawyers, they focus on one or two specific types of law like family, bankruptcy or negligence and build a clientele in these areas. Branching out to litigate other sorts of cases lessens the quality of service at this level so being specific ensures a good reputation.
Partnership. Partnerships tend to range from two lawyers to a few dozen. In this structure, partners work together to determine fees, strategies, advertising, and hiring practices the firm should pursue. As a firm grows, the tendency grows for more specialization within the firm or a more "corporate" framework. Having someone specifically for certain tasks or establishing a hierarchy of partners avoids the "too many cooks spoil the broth" scenario.
Expansion of the firm is not always the desired path either. Some partnerships may prefer to remain small. Partners may feel that a less strenuous workweek is more beneficial than a more lucrative caseload (hopefully, these two are not mutually exclusive). They may want their firm to emit an air of friendliness that a $4 million office building could not deliver.
Economic downturns force firms to reevaluate the way they do business. Firms deeply rooted in old ways of doing business are transitioning to systems that reward performance over seniority. There is a push to setup "rainy day" funds in firms to avoid losing their hat during a recession. Mitch Kowalski discusses this in "Law firm structures - a blast from the past". In response to the fluctuating revenue streams firms face and the catastrophic implications this bodes during an economic slowdown, Kowalski contends, "the businesses that are able to weather this current recession and actually thrive in it, are those that have huge hoards of cash that they diligently put away each year."
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