Seth Godin, listed as an author, entrepreneur and agent of change, recently published his thoughts that Small is the New Big. He argues that while big used to matter, small is now where it’s at. [Disclaimer alert: I work for a law firm with 370+ attorneys spread over seven offices] In weaving together a conclusion from empirical evidence, he looks at Fortune 500 as where workers made value from efficiency of scale and contrasts that with the demise of Enron. He postulates that since American Airlines (big) is in trouble but Jet Blue (think small) is doing well, small is all that matters. I guess being shackled with labor and pension costs has nothing to do with it.

He laments that:

Big accounting firms were the place to go to get audited if you were a big company, because a big accounting firm could be trusted. Big law firms were the place to find the right lawyer, because big law firms were a one-stop shop.

And then small happened.

Without giving out too many real statistics, he touts that today, little companies often make more money than big companies. For example, he points out that Craigslist (18 employees) is the fourth most visited site according to some measures (his statistic).

This all is well and good but we part ways on our opinions with his belief that a “small law firm or accounting firm or ad agency is succeeding because they’re good, not because they’re big. So smart small companies are happy to hire them.” This doesn’t really tell the whole story, does it?

A small firm, with small overhead, often charges less — and that can lead to success. For some, good enough is, well, good enough. But certainly large firms, especially in today’s climate, no longer succeed because of their size and stature. Everyone is price (and value) conscious. That means larger firms also succeed because they’re good.

Often, large (and medium-sized firms) bring together a team of attorneys with individual specialties that no small firm can match. I am currently working with a client that in one “small” matter, has issues involving not just patent protection but issues in taxation, bankruptcy, interstate & international commerce, regulatory and criminal law, all rolled into one. Fortunately, we’re able to put together the right mix of attorneys to work through the problems and come up with a success overall.

As with his Airline example above, on an average day, American Airlines will fly more than 2,600 flights. Meanwhile, Jet Blue has 68 aircraft that connect 32 cities (about 290 flights a day). Let’s hope that we don’t all need to rely on just Jet Blue or we’ll be using a lot of bus service.

Don’t get me wrong, I love small. I miss my small, corner grocery store every week whenever I’m forced to go to the big-boxes that have now forced everyone else out of the area. I love the family bicycle shop and the tiny corner coffee shop. But what really matters is personal attention. What we like to call Midwestern values or some sort of hometown attitude. People want to feel appreciated and to feel that their matter is important. To be known by name and to be get attention. That’s why our firm doesn’t feel “large” — we take time to notice people and to care about what matters to them.

This is something every large(r) firm needs to learn.

  Print This Post Print This Post  

Comments are closed.