Lawyering Up: Elevating your legal career to a mid-tier law firm

Written by Sarah Coughtrie



Lawyering Up: Elevating your legal career to a mid-tier law firm

Are you a partner looking to elevate your career from a small law firm to a mid-tier powerhouse?

The good news is that, according to the UK Legal Signal Report, this is a road well-travelled. Lateral hire data from UK firms placed 51-100 shows that 47% of 2022 partner hires came from a small firm, and a full third came from firms below the top 200. We have assisted multiple partners making such moves and it can be a truly positive result for all parties: the firm hiring a high performing partner with a diverse skill set and fresh approach, and the candidate elevating their career in a way they may not have envisaged.


We spoke with recruitment expert Sarah Coughtrie at Cyan Partners, for her insights on how lawyers can be working towards this career move.

Broaden or Specialise?

Develop a niche

Larger firms tend to value well-defined areas of expertise. Showcase your knowledge in specialist sectors and practice areas, whether that’s data protection, tech, venture capital, renewables, or any other specialty. Having a portable client following is usually crucial to having a range of options in the mid-tier, and this is often much easier to plan if you are a go-to advisor to a particular section of the market. It can often set you apart from other candidates who perhaps have a flashier brand on their CV.

Highlight your breadth of experience and versatility

If you are still finding your niche within your practice area, embrace your versatility. Your experience at a boutique firm and the wide range of matters you will have been involved with can be seen as an advantage, particularly from a commercial perspective. Highlight the value of your diverse skill set while moving towards your chosen niche. Showcase how your well-rounded expertise can help you in tackling a wide array of challenges.

What skills should I develop if I am looking to join a mid-tier law firm?

Business Development

Client following is usually key for partners looking to move, so start early with client and business development. Highlight your ability to bring in new business and create client opportunities, which tends to be easier for lawyers moving from smaller firms. In those firms, lawyers have become skilled at finding and securing business, without being as tied to a few major clients that larger firms work hard to retain.


Get involved in networking events and industry conferences. Write articles, blogs and contribute to legal publications on relevant topics. Make sure you are active on social media, especially LinkedIn. Join professional associations or take part in pro bono work to expand your connections and demonstrate your commitment to making a positive impact.


Be aware of your restrictive covenants and their impact – if you can show that your clients are “yours”, this may be in positive contrast to individuals moving from a large firm with multiple points of contact for each institutional client.

Balance administrative tasks with client development

As a senior associate or partner in a smaller firm, you may find yourself handling more non-fee earning and administrative tasks. While these responsibilities are essential, ensure they don't overwhelm you to the point where client development takes a back seat. We have seen this issue multiple times, and part of our role is to communicate this to target firms and highlight what you could achieve when freed from these responsibilities.


Seek opportunities to be client-facing whenever possible. Focus on building strong relationships and nurturing a solid client base which you can talk about confidently in interviews with mid-tier firms.

Championing your small firm experience

Positive positioning

Experience gained within any small business is valuable. Smaller businesses often enable you to operate much closer to the commercial business engine and have more visibility and involvement in a diverse range of firm and client matters. Consider what you have gained from a small business environment and how this will add value when you move to a larger firm. Working with an experienced recruiter can be instrumental in positioning your accomplishments in this way.

What’s it like working in a larger law firm?

More structure and support

In larger firms, you'll find a more organised hierarchy with multiple management layers. This grants you access to specialised teams dedicated to all business services areas, from Finance to Marketing and Business Development to Innovation.


Referral opportunities: a move to a larger firm comes with more opportunities to develop referral networks between colleagues. Be prepared to invest in building strong internal knowledge and network internally, so you are doing business development both within and outside the firm.


One of the main reasons partners move from a boutique to a full-service mid-tier firm is to allow their clients better access to legal expertise, be it a larger corporate team, experienced finance lawyers or specialist legal areas like tax or pensions. Partners moving up often find that in the mid-tier they will have colleagues from a City background who are providing high quality advice with more flexibility on rates than their previous firms. Additionally, there may be a larger number of offices and a more developed national or international presence.

Navigating your transition

Transitioning from a boutique to a mid-size firm brings notable differences in workload, firm culture, resources, collaboration, and career opportunities. You may feel the challenge of being part of a larger, more complex ecosystem. It’s important to see this as a positive and accept that it will take time to adapt to a new working culture.

Most mid-tier firms these days are extremely conscious of their culture. However, with hybrid working remaining the norm, the difference in hours etc is nowhere near as pronounced. An experienced recruiter should assist with the transition and prepare a candidate for these types of questions throughout the process.

What career opportunities are there in mid-tier law firms?

The future for the mid-tier looks dynamic and full of potential. Some mid-tier firms may opt to join forces to create larger entities, unlocking new avenues for expansion and specialisation. Others will retain their independence, nurturing their unique identity and personalised approach to client services whilst climbing up the tables.

There is more opportunity for career development internally at a larger firm with more moving parts. As the legal market undergoes continuous evolution, your adaptability will be your greatest asset. Embrace the changing tides with enthusiasm and keep an eye out for emerging trends and practice areas. Your ability to seize new opportunities and embrace innovation will set you apart.


Ready to take the leap from a small law firm to a mid-tier law firm?  The team at Cyan Partners can help. We are senior legal recruiters who invest in our client and candidate relationships to ensure it is always the right person for the right role, for the long term. You can expect a personalised recruitment approach, coaching throughout the recruitment process and a recruitment partner you can work with throughout your legal career.


Visit our website at for more information on what we do and who we do it for or contact Sarah Coughtrie.


Thank you to Ambrose Chua on Unsplash for the photograph

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