Someone asked me the other day about "boutique" law firms. My response was a stutter and a mumble about specialization. But the truth is, if you go on Craigslist or Google and look for firms, chances are that you'll see a whole heck of a lot of firms flinging around that adjective.
From an informal office poll, none of us could really tell if a "boutique" firm really was a distinct thing, or just another marketing term tossed around on the Internet and on business cards. The message to clients from these highfalutin' firms is that this is more than your ordinary shingle-hanger -- the adjective provides some assurance that this is a specialized firm focusing on close attention (though it's true that all firms pretty much promise that). Going with a boutique also means the client doesn't pay for 57 practice areas that a BigLaw firm covers, but she never needs.
But even with all that said, "boutique" is still a nebulous concept.
A Boutique Firm Is Not...
How about we start by looking at what a boutique firm is not:
Are You a Boutique? Better Question: Do You Have Boutique Clients?
You may be experienced. You may have a small firm. But should you call yourself a "boutique" firm?
Let's start with your target clientele: If you have high-end clients with lots of money to spend, then a nice office and a nice adjective might help to create the impression that you are worth a high hourly rate. (Your work product, of course, will justify the hour rate after the fact.)
But if you represent budget-minded folks (personal injury, DUI defense, landlord-tenant), you could very well scare off potential clients by giving the impression that your legal services are priced beyond their means.