Googling the words “boutique law firm” returns a plethora of results; the overarching point being that they are on the rise – but why? There are of course many reasons for this burst in smaller agile legal service providers such as:

  1. unsettled lawyers seeking a change from the traditional big law model so as to take control and work in a different way;
  2. the institutionalisation of clients and embedding of commercial conflicts into the law firm delivery model; and
  3. the identification of clear gaps in the legal services market which if exploited could deliver the same or better quality service to clients at markedly better value.

We explore some of these reasons and what we consider these mean for both clients and lawyers.

Agility and accessibility

If you want agility, it’s got to be boutique agility. From clearing conflicts, IT adoption, tailored/adaptive pricing to turnaround times, boutique firms will win the race every time compared to the large law firm bureaucracy.

When large traditional “Big Law” firms boast at being able to deploy teams at short notice in a crisis, they do so comparing themselves against their immediate competitors i.e. other large firms and not boutique firms.

If a client needs immediate support (within the hour in urgent cases) then a boutique firm can clear conflicts, receive documents and setup a meeting within that timescale. It is not unusual in international law firms for conflict checks alone to take 1-2 days to clear even in the most urgent of cases.

The speed at which boutique law firms can respond and deploy services, whilst important, is not the only agile aspect to such firms. The ability to respond to specific economic/ market/ client demands is another major differentiator.

This agility is first and foremost to the benefit of the client but it is also a reason why more and more lawyers who find themselves bogged down in relentless internal law firm conflict battles or restricted resourcing/ pricing models, are moving to boutique law firms. All of the internal constraints are removed so they can focus on delivering the best for their clients.

Progressive and responsive

Boutique firms are built from the ground up and so, by nature and by design, are modern and progressive. Everything from the technology, culture and internal processes at boutique firms are tailored to the lawyers and their clients. They are highly unlikely to have been forged in years gone by where phrases such as “very city” or “white shoe” follow them through the ages; steadily maintaining a culture worthy of those phrases. Boutique law firms reflect modern times, attitudes, cultures and working styles responding to client or market demands.

For the individual lawyer, the attractions are clear; modern tech, responsive to client needs, fewer internal politics and a culture removed from traditional constraints.

Lawyers at boutique firms can perhaps find it easier to be their authentic-self or demonstrate entrepreneurial flare by identifying and adopting techniques, or even just technology, which better serves their clients. All of this offers the opportunity to focus on the things which will move the needle in terms of their individual career development and practice.

For clients instructing a boutique firm they may find that they interact with an organisation that, whilst tailored to their business needs, offers a breadth of lawyers meaning a higher chance of interacting with people that directly reflect their own personal attitudes or cultural backgrounds.

Client centred

Boutique firms are by their nature specialised and focused. This focus, combined with increased agility, means that boutique firms closely tailor their offering to the business needs of their clients from the outset. Moreover, the often senior composition of these law firms means clients engage with experienced lawyers on their matters rather than the most junior members of the team.

This focused and tailored service has obvious benefits for clients; they get experts in the field and regular access to them. There is little risk that the team which a client thought it had appointed is not the team which ultimately ends up providing services to them.

For the individual lawyer, this focus can be refreshing. Sitting in the construction disputes team at a large international firm for example may not necessarily mean you are not required to pick up the small hedge fund dispute that the corporate partner needs assistance with. Boutique firms simply do not have that. An employment law boutique firm will simply not be pestered with things outside its specialism. This offers focus with freedom from distractions.


It’s a fact that can’t be ignored. Boutique law firms have fewer overheads. Clients will not be paying for service lines they do not use nor premium real estate in locations which are not relevant to them.

This enables boutique law firms to focus costs on what matters – the lawyers they recruit. As such, these firms are more competitive on price as well as tailoring their fee proposals to align in value with their clients. Something the large law firms are reluctant to do – especially in disputes.

Clearly the boutique law firm model is here to stay and, if anything, has accelerated in a post-pandemic world. There will always remain a place for the large international law firms but the rise of the new-wave of boutique law firms heralds a new client-focused value and quality journey those firms may struggle to keep up with.

Michael Hartley

December 2023

Posted by: Michael Hartley

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