What It’s Like Working at a Company of 15 vs. 450,000

One of the genuinely most fascinating experiences of my life was when I was chasing a legal career in my 20's…

Emily Olson
4 min readApr 29


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As a millennial, I had recently witnessed Elle Woods conquer law school with beauty and grace, and I felt confident that is where I was happily headed too.

Besides, being a Philosophy major I was reminded frequently by my business school pals that:Philosophy has no practical application in the real world.”

(Which us Philosophy lovers know is not true at all… it’s the opposite.😈)

So I decided Law School was the only way to ensure my major was practically applicable. Plus Elle Woods made it look easy.

…Until the resounding advice from every lawyer I asked, stopped me in my tracks. They all said: “Don’t go to law school until you work in the legal profession first. You should see what it’s really like first.”

It wasn’t a few people who told me that, it was LITR-LY everyone.

So off to hunt for legal jobs I went!

For brevity let’s call the smaller company:🧑‍⚖️ and the larger company: 🎯

Fast Forward: The first job I got out of college was at a small 15-person law firm (🧑‍⚖️), and a few years later I unexpectedly moved to a larger company (🎯) with around 450k global employees at the time.

Difference 1. The Culture (Shock)

Coming fresh from a small company with virtually no “shared lingo”, it was weird when 🎯 handed me a whole book that held hundreds of acronyms that I was about to become fluent in.

They would call it “drinking the Kool-aid” which basically meant you bought into the culture.

Spoiler alert, the Kool-aid is mainly acronyms.

Going from small to large, I learned culture is important with all companies, but it’s harder to create a cohesive culture with larger companies. Therefore, larger companies focus more intently on fostering culture all the time.
Hence acronyms.

Difference 2. The Challenge & Personal Power

The daily tasks and scope of work I had at 🧑‍⚖ ️left me feeling most days truly challenged, excited, and fulfilled.

Everyone was working on all types of cases. Everyone’s ideas were valued. I was learning so much each day that my brain felt tired at the end, but a good tired.

In contrast, at 🎯 some days I felt like I learned nothing.
My brain felt tired for another reason: it wasn’t as challenging every day.

At a larger company, 1 person doesn’t easily have the ability to make change or take on tasks that are slightly out-of-scope but challenging.

“Have a new idea? Great! Go through 5 levels of approval & wait 6 months please!”

Difference 3. The Budget & Taylor Swift

It goes without saying, but 🎯 being a larger company, they had a larger budget for things like salaries and employee parties.

One year, I actually missed the employee party that TAYLOR SWIFT performed at and it’s one of my top 5 regerts. (I was tragically working from home that day in a blizzard lol.)

There was also a budget for mental health resources, a basketball court, a food court with 12 seasonal coffee flavors, and a new fitness center with Zumba classes (which was freaking awesome).

In contrast, at 🧑‍⚖️ we had a ton of fun but on a smaller budget. We still had plenty of fun company parties, went on creative outings, and bonded at luncheons…

It just didn’t involve Taylor Swift, you know?

Difference 4. Small Fast Boat vs. Large Slow Ship

At 🧑‍⚖️, everyone’s presence at the office was valued and needed.
No one felt anonymous.

There were lifelong business partners, and along with that a feeling of camaraderie and shared ethics.

Being smaller, we were able to pivot quickly and switch directions on a dime.

The downside of this is that it was very noticeable if someone was sick, or out of the office. Everyone would have to pick up the slack to meet the deadline.

At a smaller company, sometimes deadlines are shorter and also more urgent. It made being sick or traveling on vacation feel kind of inconvenient for everyone else.

But to be sure: Your ship is moving fast always!

In contrast, at 🎯, I became an absolute teeny tiny goldfish.
I felt anonymous all the time. I never quite knew if what I was doing actually mattered, because the ship was so big.

The positive side here is that a larger ship turns more slowly.
Calling in sick didn’t create emergency work for everyone else, because we were on slower deadlines.

Going from small to large, I learned that the pace at a larger company was actually significantly slower than I was used to, which honestly lead to a significantly more chill environment.

Less pressure and therefore less stress.

And more time for Zumba.

Like my boss at 🎯 always said: “Relax! We’re selling socks, not performing heart surgery!”