In response to my question as to what its legal marketing strategy was, the managing partner of a 400-lawyer firm said “to grow to 1500 lawyers in five years.” He explained that he wanted to expand to both coasts, the Midwest, as well as internationally. Conceding that this may be an interesting goal, it wasn’t particularly strategic, since there was no plan in place to implement such a vision. Five years later, the firm had grown by approximately 50 lawyers.

Considering that most geographic areas are all well-served by existing law firms of all sizes, one has to ask the critical question when it comes to thoughts of expanding the firm: WHY?

Often the answer is that if we were bigger, we’d do better. Wrong. Growth for growth’s sake, in order to reach nirvana, just doesn’t work.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons to grow a firm. Three good reasons for expansion include:

  • Meeting existing clients’ needs in current marketplace or elsewhere,
  • Shoring up gaps in the firm’s practice areas to meet current or anticipated needs, and
  • Present marketplace is stagnant or dying, and firm needs to move into growing areas.

So, whether it’s adding individual lawyers, or expanding the firm’s geographical reach (by opening an office or merging with a firm elsewhere), make sure that the reasons for doing so are strategically thought through. Many firms have done so only to close the office or shed lawyers later.

For some very good reasons why some small firms choose to stay small, take a look at the article by Stephanie Lovett that appeared in The Legal Intelligencer and on’s Small Firm Business