Boutique law firm

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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. Although 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 may be some confusion as legal publications may 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, with exception to a few firms such as Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner or Fish & Richardson with over 400 attorneys.[1]


Mid-size law firms began losing ground in the 1980s in the consolidation of the legal market.[2] They have been the primary means by which larger law firms from regional centers expanded in key new markets such as New York City.[3] For example, Atlanta-based Alston & Bird acquired 50-lawyer German-focused corporate boutique Walter, Conston, Alexander & Green, P.C. in 2001.[4] The same year, Boston-based legacy firm Bingham Dana & Gould (now known as Bingham McCutchen) merged with boutique litigation shop Richards & O'Neill and Dallas-based Jenkens & Gilchrist absorbed Parker Chapin Flattau & Klimpl. Recently[when?], Texas firm Vinson & Elkins acquired Cronin & Vris, a small bankruptcy boutique.[5]

The pendulum began to swing back away from consolidation toward the formation of smaller boutique firms with the downturn of the economy in late 2008 and early 2009 as recession-proof niche practices began to separate themselves from the struggling behemoths.[6] For example, Washington, D.C.-based Hautsfeld LLP spun out of Cohen Milstein and Birmingham, Alabama-based Frohsin & Barger, LLC spun out of the southern regional firm Baker Donelson. Both Hausfeld and Frohsin & Barger have been cited as examples by the National Law Journal as "somewhat recession-proof" boutiques.[7] Other boutiques, such as Waesche, Sheinbaum & O'Regan, have dissolved.

Boutique law firms have maintained their competitive edge in a number of fields. Firms like Seattle-based Harris & Moure remain a competitive force in the international law practice.[8] The complexities of intellectual property, especially patent law, have made IP boutiques still competitive, including Fish & Richardson, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, Oblon, Spivak, Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner and Wood, Herron & Evans, although New York City IP boutiques Pennie & Edmonds largely joined Jones Day, Fish & Neave merged with Boston-based Ropes & Gray, and a number of Morgan & Finnegan lawyers joined Texas-based Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell.[9][10][11] Additionally, Alexandria-based IP boutique Burns, Doane, Swecker & Mathis merged with Pittsburgh-based Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney in 2005, Cushman, Darby & Cushman was absorbed by national firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman (then Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro), Houston-based Arnold, White & Durkee merged with Howrey (then Howrey & Simon), Los Angeles-based Lyon & Lyon dissolved in 2002, and Silicon Valley boutique Skjerven Morrill & MacPherson LLP dissolved in 2003.

Looking beyond U.S. borders, litigation law firms based in Europe include Oppenhoff & Partner.

Major boutique firms by specialty[edit]

Intellectual property[edit]

Labor and employment[edit]



Technology and venture capital[edit]


External links[edit]