A Career Crossroad – Practicing in the Big City or Smaller Community

April 1, 2021

As legal recruiters, we find ourselves serving as sounding boards for lawyers facing a career crossroad.  For some, they desire a career challenge but also seek a life style change.  This might mean leaving the lights of the big city for the jobs, lifestyle of practicing law in smaller towns and communities dotted across the country.

In the legal world of today, there are so many different options available to lawyers that can drive professional and personal satisfaction.  Some believe the choice to leave behind the big firm in the big city in favor for practicing law in smaller communities is simply a mad dash from the pressure of excessive billable hours.  But as legal recruiters we hear how career changes are driven by many different reasons and somewhat unique to each individual lawyer’s situation.

Quality of Life

Some lawyers learn this early in their careers while others might never learn.  It’s the little things that count.  Family, kids, golf, hockey, housing, vacation, community events, social organizations and importantly — the time available to have the time of your life.   Rather than the 45 plus minutes of daily road rage, your commute becomes a leisurely 15 minute drive – or bike ride.

Long-Term Client Relationships

In the largest firms in the country, some of the lawyers have never met the client and find themselves comfortable steeped in the technical legal aspects.  Other lawyers seek a unique working relationship with their clients.  Clients in smaller communities often become friends, play in the same hockey league, send their kids to the same school. The net result is a truly loyal client; one with whom a tight lasting bond is developed. As one lawyer explains, “practising in a smaller community makes me feel like I’m actually a lawyer, giving advice to real people and making a real difference in their lives.”

Enhanced Standard of Living

Smaller communities offer enhanced living standards: compensation is solid, commuting is inexpensive, activities cost less, and there is often greater access to key services (such as health care). Work-related stress is usually lower. And the idea of owning or building your “dream house” is no longer just a dream.

Bigger Fish, Smaller Pond

For aspiring leaders, there is tremendous opportunity to shape and develop your community in a real and measurable way.  Assuming community leadership roles increases both personal and professional satisfaction, and creates enduring, long-term relationships.

Of course, practising in smaller communities means certain trade-offs. Some lawyers might miss those large corporate financings, the quality of training, the depth of expertise in specialized areas, the extensive resources and the larger team. This is why many lawyers perhaps wait until they have five or more years behind them before making the move. They will tend to pursue more “balance” in their career once they feel they have a solid skill base of high level training and experience.

Professional career decisions are hardly easy ones.  At the end of the day, it will depend on the kind of a life, and career, you’re looking to build for yourself and perhaps for your family. For some, the big firm, big city, big work lifestyle is where it’s at. But for others, the benefits of smaller town living and practice are huge and the tradeoffs are a small.


Dal Bhathal is a Managing Partner at The Counsel Network, a Canadian legal recruitment firm specializing in legal talent management strategies covering all levels of lawyers and practices for both corporate legal departments and law firms. To brainstorm your career, contact Dal at dal@thecounselnetwork.com or 416.364.6654/604.643.1708. 


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