Boutique law firm

Boutique law firm

A boutique law firm is a collection of attorneys typically organized in a limited liability partnership or professional corporation specializing in a niche area of law practice. While a general practice law firm includes a variety of unrelated practice areas within a single firm, a boutique firm specializes in one or a select few practice areas. There can be some confusion because legal publications can refer to any small- or mid-sized firm as a boutique, though generally less than 100 attorneys would count. Boutique should apply to those firms that focus on particular areas, regardless of size, though they are typically smaller except for a few national firms such as Fish & Richardson with over 400 attorneys.

Mid-size law firms have been losing ground since the 1980s in the consolidation of the legal market. They have been the primary means by which larger law firms from regional centers expanded in key new markets such as New York City. For example, Atlanta-based Alston & Bird acquired 50-lawyer German-focused corporate boutique Walter, Conston, Alexander & Green, P.C. in 2001. The same year, Boston-based legacy firm Bingham Dana & Gould (now known as Bingham McCutchen) merged with boutique litigation shop Richards & O'Neill. Recently, Texas firm Vinson & Elkins acquired Cronin & Vris, a small bankruptcy boutique.

Boutique law firms have maintained their competitive edge in a number of fields. The complexities of intellectual property, especially patent law, have made IP boutiques still competitive, including Fish & Richardson and Darby & Darby, P.C. although renowned New York City IP boutiques Pennie & Edmonds largely joined Jones Day and Fish & Neave merged with Boston-based Ropes & Gray.

Some boutique law firms can be quite large in terms of headcount. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz has only one location in New York City and focuses on premium corporate matters and litigation, particularly in the mergers and acquisitions context. In the litigation area, Armonk, New York-based Boies, Schiller & Flexner and Washington, D.C.-based Williams & Connolly are litigation boutiques. All employ over 200 attorneys. Howrey could in some sense be considered an antitrust, intellectual property and litigation boutique in that it does not aspire to be a full-service law firm.

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