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How to Advance Your Career By Relocating to Another Area of the Country as an Attorney: Are You Relocation Material?

published July 30, 2021

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A fresh start in a new city with a new job is something all of us think about at some point in our lives. Being in the legal industry has an advantage in that you can almost seamlessly move from one end of the country to the other and still be able to keep doing what you love, which is practice law, or even advance in your career. With BCG Attorney Search as a legal recruiter, I have been able to relocate countless attorneys to other cities in the U.S. and all around the world, so I have a lot of experience and tips on the best possible way to do it.
 

Something you should think about before taking any steps is your reason to relocate. This is not just something that you need to consider, but it will also come up in interviews. Having a clear reason for moving to a city where you have (almost) no ties always looks better than not having a reason.


But once you have this reason, you will probably be much more attractive to law firms than other attorneys if you are in the right market. Relocating across the country means some serious determination, and law firms love that. But without being prepared, relocation cannot be successful. You have to know the markets which need people with your skillset and experience.

The two most important factors in relocating successfully, from my experience, are the type of attorney you are and the market you want to relocate to. Both of these factors are discussed in detail further in the article.
 

Your Legal Practice Area Determines the Success of Your Legal Career When Relocating to a Different State


Your success really depends upon what type of attorney you are. There are always certain practice areas that are really in demand at different points in time. Now, for instance, corporate and patent law are in demand. Litigators are almost always in demand, but it is difficult for them to relocate because they can be found everywhere. Corporate lawyers can relocate very easily to other markets with sufficient experience when the economy is up. They also have great chances of relocating internationally during a prosperous economic environment. However, when the economy is on the low, they don't have many choices - they are lucky to keep their current jobs.

Specialization is also something that can help you when relocating. The more niche your area is, the less competition there is and the more in-demand you are. However, you also have to have skills that you can use in many law firms.

I have comprised some insights about how different types of attorneys can be successful at relocation. Here they are:
 

Litigators


Litigation is the hardest practice setting to relocate with because most attorneys are litigators. To relocate, litigators generally need to have outstanding credentials. For instance, it will be much easier to relocate if they specialize in medical malpractice or insurance defense litigation than for a general litigator.

The advantage of being a litigator lies in the fact that they are always in demand. Even during bad economies, when other types of attorneys face difficulties, litigation is still booming, sometimes even more than when the economy is doing well.

On the other hand, it can be much more difficult for litigators to relocate. There are litigators behind every corner, so firms might prefer to hire someone local over an attorney from the other side of the country. Also, skills litigators need the most, such as negotiation, arguing in court, or writing, are not easily recognized during the recruitment process. Firms are left to assess attorneys based on more conventional indicators. Graduating from the top law schools, having worked in major law firms, or having a federal court clerkship are the things that decide whether the firm will hire you or not. If you don't have great credentials, relocating becomes more difficult. With so many litigators to choose from, only those with an exceptional record have options in their job search.

In markets like New York or California, firms bear even more risks when hiring someone out of state. Litigators need to pass the bar exam in the state where they want to work independently, and the bar exam in these states has a lower passing rate than in other states. The firms have to pay these attorneys studying for the state bar exam with no certainty that they will pass. They also have to pay the relocation costs, which is only favorable if they know they are hiring an exceptional attorney.

Litigation is also the practice area with the most rules and requirements unique to each state, so when an attorney moves to a new jurisdiction, they need extensive training to learn this new information. Certification also differs from state to state. For instance, in Washington, D.C., it is easy to get certified if you obtain a certain score on your state's bar exam, while New York State doesn't have such an agreement with other states. The American Bar Association comprised a guide that will help you figure out the requirements of each state.
 

Corporate Attorneys


Relocation as a corporate attorney is much easier than in any other area. If the attorney has a good record and credentials, they can basically choose any location in our country or outside and move there. You can move from New York to Miami or Detroit and back. Corporate law is really a great practice setting for relocation. If you have had good corporate training, there is not that much competition, so firms will fight over you and will be willing to help you relocate.

But the thing is that everything in law is about supply and demand. And it tends to really fluctuate in corporate law, but also real estate law. When the economy is good, the demand for corporate lawyers is very high, and the market is booming. However, when the economy slows down, so does corporate law. Many lawyers lose their jobs, and if the economic situation doesn't pick up quickly enough, many of them stop practicing law. Also, attorneys from a major market are always more desired than a smaller, less known market.

The advantage of corporate attorneys relocating is that their skills are easily transferable to any new market or in-house counsel. With the right training, once you learn the ins and outs of corporate law in one place, you can do the same job everywhere else.

If you can specialize as a corporate lawyer in a particular skill, the demand for you will probably increase a great deal. Having a particular skill set in such a transferable market can help you get a job anywhere in the world, even in Shanghai or Tokyo. The more specialized you are, the more marketable you will be because the less competition is there. If you choose the right and narrow enough specialization, you can have a constant stream of work. Of course, this is not a bulletproof method, and it cannot work all the time, but your chances are much higher the more you specialize.

Corporate attorneys have the best chance in large markets around big cities or growing markets not just in the U.S. but worldwide. You can really have work opportunities from anywhere in the world thanks to the transferability of the skills in corporate law. However, the practice area is really dependent on the current economy, so that is something to have in mind at all times.
 

Patent Prosecutors


I have been in this job for a long time, and patent prosecutors have always been in demand. That is more than 20 years!

Patent attorneys with a STEM background, such as computer science, electrical engineering, or mechanical engineering, are usually the most in-demand, so your marketability is very high if you have such a background.

The reason for this is that these types of attorneys are very scarce. There is really not that much competition for lawyers with this type of knowledge and training, such as lawyers with mechanical engineering backgrounds. As legal recruiters in BCG Attorney Search, we have placed every patent prosecutor with technical or science background, and they have always got several offers not long after applying. If you have the right background and training in writing patents, you will always have a job.
 

Other Practice Areas


These were some common practice areas where relocation is often considered. What about other areas? Is relocation possible there?

Of course, relocation is always possible! But, certain factors can increase your chances. If you meet these criteria, the possibility of your relocation grows. Those are:
 
  • in-demand skills
  • transferable skills
  • not a lot of attorneys with your specialization

These factors have been touched on in the previous sections, and their significance to a successful relocation is pretty straightforward. If you have skills that a law firm needs, there are not many other attorneys who can offer these skills, and you don't have to be specifically trained because you already know how to do the job, your legal career can take you to many different places.
 

Choose the Right Legal Market to Relocate To Major Markets


Major markets, meaning markets in big cities, are always the smartest to relocate to. If you move to these bigger markets, you will suddenly have much, much more opportunities. But it is important to keep in mind that there is also much more competition, so depending on your practice area and credentials, you might not always be able to relocate to the best law firm.

California, for instance, is a great market to relocate to. It might not be as good as it used to a few years ago, but if the economy is booming, there is a ton of work for attorneys to come and grab it. It is because it takes up a big part of the world's economy, so there is always a lot of business which also means many opportunities for lawyers. Once you pass the state bar exam there, it should be quite easy to find a job. With BCG Attorney Search, we have helped more than a thousand firms in this market find the right people, so that also tells you something.

The best market in California for transactional attorneys is definitely Palo Alto. That market has just been on fire, and it should be no surprise that's where all the tech companies are. It is also a growing market, so there is still the possibility of growth. San Francisco is also a common choice for moving. However, the market is more saturated, so it is harder to get to prestigious law firms. San Diego is a growing market, so also a good choice, although you really need the corresponding bar exam here to succeed.

Legal recruiters have also started to hire more attorneys on the whole East Coast. The biggest attraction of the East Coast market is that it has many strong law-oriented cities, such as New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Northern Virginia, or Philadelphia, between which you can move quite easily throughout your legal career. When you want to move anywhere else in the country, firms usually ask you why you want to move there, but they don't have to ask you why whenever you want to relocate to New York City or Washington. They all assume you want to live there. Why wouldn't you?

New York is a very corporate law-oriented market, so it is lucrative when the economy is in a good situation. Washington focuses mainly on litigation or policy law and only very little corporate law, so it is not dependent on the economic situation. But it is also a very competitive market, so the better your credentials are, the more options for success you will have.

Chicago is another great option for relocation. It is probably better than New York or Washington, D.C., but the firms do like you to have some contacts there before hiring you. The Chicago market is great mainly because it is not as prone to the changes in the economy as some other markets. It doesn't slow down as much during recessions and continuously hires new attorneys. However, that also means that it is not active in Chicago when there is a boom in relocations and hiring elsewhere. Litigators are usually in demand the most in this market.
 

Small Markets


My favorite markets to relocate people into out of the major ones are smaller markets. Such markets are very open to lawyers switching firms.

Smaller markets are places like Seattle, which has gotten more popular recently, Portland, different Arizona, Austin, Florida, Michigan, Alabama, or New Orleans. It is generally quite easy to make a lateral move to these markets, and people are surprised by this all the time.

I remember working with a litigator in New York who had been looking there for a position for months. He decided on a whim to contact us and apply for a position in a great law firm in New Orleans. And he got the job. It was a dream come true for him.

Many attorneys do not think to work in small markets. But in my opinion, it is one of the smartest things an attorney can do because there is not much competition for the same jobs. If you're a good lawyer, you are almost guaranteed a legal placement.

Law firms in these markets are also much less likely to get rid of people because they never know whether someone good will come around soon enough. So, it is perfect for everyone looking to be somewhere for the long haul. You can find stability and long-term opportunities with a close-knit professional community in small markets. It is often a much better choice than a large market because you don't have to constantly worry about losing your job, which allows you to focus on getting better at your current firm.

Take Seattle, for instance. It has always been a good market. Most large law firms are trying to open offices there. Denver and Phoenix are also great options that are growing in popularity.

Another advantage smaller markets have over the major ones is that living there is much lower. Taxes are also often lower, so your quality of life can increase with a smaller market move. You will be able to buy a house, which is often completely out of the question for many lawyers for many years of their careers in places like Los Angeles. With less pressure at work, you will probably also be able to enjoy your weekends with your family instead of spending them in an office trying to catch up on all the work. Most attorneys relocating to a law firm in a smaller market live much better lives now than they did before.

Changing markets to a smaller one can be the best thing you do for your life if you do it the right way. Of course, if you want to move to a large market, nothing is wrong with that. Most legal placements we make as legal recruiters and hiring partners are in big markets to major cities because attorneys sometimes want the thrill and the opportunity to try it in the larger firms and markets. But if you want stability and less stress, do not forget that there is always a smaller legal market where you can have that.
 

Conclusions


Relocating to a new city is a great opportunity for legal professionals to advance their careers, gain new knowledge and skills, and experience something new. One of the smartest things you can do is always add additional markets to your search. The more markets you're looking at, the better off you are. This comes from years of experience as a legal recruiter who helped many attorneys change firms in different states and even countries.

When moving firms to a new jurisdiction, the two most important factors to consider are the type of attorney you are and the market where you want to move. They can determine the success you have in the new market and your new firm.

See also:
 

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