A Closer Look: Why Lawyers Are Transitioning from Top-Tier to Mid-sized Law Firms

Written By:
Cecilya Amorim
Marketing Executive

In recent years, a trend has emerged in the legal landscape as associates increasingly shift from top-tier law firms to midsized counterparts. Why? Well, first things first, the term ‘midsize’ by no means less superior, it just means smaller. While this has always been common knowledge, there has been a growing awareness amongst lawyers of the unique advantages mid-market firms can offer.

In this article, we’ll look at how midsized firms in the U.S have attracted rainmaker partners and top-tier associates in the last 12 months.  

When considering a career move, it's crucial to tailor your decision to your unique circumstances. While many professionals aim to move 'up market', simply chasing higher rankings doesn't guarantee personal or professional fulfillment. It's essential to evaluate if a firm aligns with your values, offers a supportive culture, and provides opportunities for meaningful growth. - Michael McGinnis, Principal Consultant, Sonder Los Angeles

Greater Autonomy and Responsibility

When working at a top-tier firm, associates can often feel a small fish in a big pond. Mid-sized law firms typically offer lawyers more autonomy and opportunities for meaningful client interaction and case involvement. In contrast to the hierarchical structures prevalent in large firms, where junior associates may have limited exposure to clients and decision-making processes, mid-sized firms often provide attorneys with greater responsibility early in their careers. This hands-on experience can appeal to lawyers seeking professional growth and a sense of fulfilment in their work.


With greater autonomy also comes flexibility. A significant appeal of midsize firms lies in their ability to foster a more relaxed working atmosphere. Particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic, a large portion of these firms still offer hybrid working options or possibilities for lawyers to work across different offices in the U.S. to escape the bustle of city life.  

Unlike the often fast-paced and demanding environments of top-tier firms, midsize counterparts offer a more collaborative and collegial work environment and workplace culture less centered around billable target hours.  

This flexibility contributes to a more diverse and enriching professional experience and aligns with the changing preferences of lawyers seeking a broader range of work environments.

Adaptability and Agility

In today's rapidly changing legal landscape, mid-sized firms are often praised for their adaptability and agility in responding to market trends and client needs. Unlike larger firms, which may be constrained by bureaucratic processes and organizational hierarchies, midsize firms can pivot more quickly to seize opportunities and address challenges. This flexibility appeals to lawyers who value innovation and want to be part of a dynamic and responsive legal practice.

Better Prospects for Equity Partnership

For lawyers aspiring to achieve equity partnership, midsize firms may offer more attainable pathways compared to top-tier firms where partnership tracks can be highly competitive and protracted. Midsize firms often have more transparent partnership structures and a greater willingness to promote talented attorneys based on merit and contribution to the firm's success. This can be an attractive proposition for ambitious lawyers looking to advance their careers and attain a stake in their firm's future.

In many cases, the compensation structure is directly tied to the business brought in by the lawyers. This means that the more clients an associate brings to the firm, the higher their earning potential—an enticing prospect for those with a keen eye on long-term financial success.

Now lets take a look at just how many associates moved from AmLaw 100 firms to midsize in 2023:

*'Drastically Different' Associate Strategies in Big Law and Midsize Firms May Continue in 2024 (Law.com)

If you're a lawyer considering a move into a midsize firm, here are some firms to consider:

*Vault's 2024 Rankings are derived from Vault's Annual Associate Survey conducted from January 2023 through March 2023.

My one piece of advice is to reflect on your long-term aspirations and choose a path that resonates with your future self. Your career spans decades; it should bring purpose, fulfillment, and support your personal and financial goals, regardless of a firm's ranking.  - Michael McGinnis, Principal Consultant, Sonder Los Angeles

Ready to explore your options?

Contacts us today, for a no-obligation phone call to discuss your journey to professional and personal fulfilment.

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