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Reasons Attorneys Should Look at More Legal Markets

published December 23, 2021

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Many attorneys rely on finding their legal job in law firms in their current legal market. However, that can be fatal for their legal careers. As a legal recruiter, I have found that relocating to a different legal market is often a better and more successful job search decision in the legal employment space.

Searching in multiple legal markets opens a world of new possibilities that would not be available in attorneys' current needs. Attorneys also often have a much better chance to find their dream placements in major law firms.

When switching law firms in your legal market, the hiring managers are often suspicious of the reasons for the switch. They will think if you want to change firms in your market, something negative must have happened that forced you out of your current law firm. However, when relocating to a different market, there are usually other more valid and understandable reasons the law firms are willing to listen to it. This article describes why relocating is often the best way to jumpstart or restart your legal career and why you should always look at more markets.

Looking at More Than One Legal Market Will Give You a Better Chance To Get a Position in a Great Law Firm

When looking at one legal market, you are doing yourself a big disservice because you are seriously limiting the number of positions you see. In our country alone, there are hundreds if not thousands of legal markets to choose from, so focusing on jobs in only one of them means you see significantly fewer positions than there are.

In my recruiting firm, BCG Attorney Search, I have seen how to improve legal careers by relocating. And it does not go just one way. Many attorneys do not do well in their current small markets, but once they relocate to a bigger market, they find their dream legal placement in a prestigious law firm. Other attorneys are not satisfied with their situation in a significant market but find their dream jobs in smaller markets like family law firms.

There are situations in which you cannot afford to look only at one legal market, mainly if the opportunities in your current market are scarce and competition is enormous. Some of these situations are:

Being in a Narrow Practice Area

Many practice areas have only limited opportunities in legal markets. It is common in areas, such as tax, healthcare, trademark, or patent prosecution, where there are zero or a limited number of openings in a legal market. This situation occurs in all-size markets, not only in small markets. Tax and patent attorneys sometimes have problems finding gaps even in markets like New York or Los Angeles. When something like this happens in your market, the most logical thing you can do is start looking in other markets.

In BCG Attorney Search, we have relocated many finance, trademark, tax, or patent attorneys to different cities in the United States and internationally. One of our clients who worked as a project finance attorney relocated to Hong Kong after finding a placement in Texas, where he operated previously. We always encourage our clients in these narrow practice areas to look at positions around the country, not just in their current market.

If you are in a narrow practice area and your market does not offer enough opportunities, it is time to start looking in other markets. It is common to look for jobs in different cities in other professions, so why not discover all the job opportunities instead of limiting yourself.

Being in a Slow Legal Market

It is usual for legal markets to slow down from time to time; it happens everywhere. If you find yourself looking for a legal placement in a currently slow market, your one way out is looking somewhere else and relocating.

The market in New York always tends to slow down when the economy gets worse. People and companies do not have that much money to pay for high fees in the largest law firms in major markets, which means they move all of the work they need to have done to smaller firms in smaller markets where the fees are not as high.

The market in oil states, such as Texas, is tied to the state of the oil market. When oil prices fall, the market inevitably slows down; it is just how the market works. When you are looking for a new position during this slowed-down period, you do not have a choice but to look in other markets.

Many other attorneys are usually looking for a job with a slow market, so the competition is tough. With only a few open positions and many attorneys fighting for them, the best decision you can make is to start looking elsewhere. There will always be a market that is not as slow as your home market.

Having Limited Prospects for the Future

After working a while in a law firm, many attorneys realize there is no future for them. It often happens in smaller firms or law firms in smaller markets as the most critical clients always choose the most prestigious law firms in big cities. That means that attorneys in the smaller firms do not have access to more sophisticated work and do not get to work with high-profile, important clients who also can pay a high price.

If an attorney feels that they want more sophisticated work, higher income, or work with more prominent clients but their market cannot offer them, looking at a bigger market and relocating is a great way to achieve their goals.

Large markets can be limiting too. For many attorneys working in law firms, making partners is the ultimate goal in their careers. Senior attorneys around the country work extremely hard for years trying to get to the partner level without seeing a successful end in sight.

Large markets, such as New York, are highly competitive, and most attorneys never make partners, or it takes such a long time that they give up. However, when you focus your legal search on law firms that are smaller or are in smaller markets, the prospect of becoming a partner is suddenly more tangible.

In BCG Attorney Search, we relocate attorneys for these reasons all the time. Attorneys switch their small law firm in their hometown to a major law firm in a significant market weekly, if not daily. Other lawyers change from essential needs to smaller areas to advance quicker. Some attorneys do not enjoy the culture of their current market and wish to relocate to a city that is more in line with their personality and expectations.

Knowing About a Booming Legal Market Somewhere Else

From time to time, some markets tend to explode and are booming. They offer many placements, your income can triple overnight by relocating there, and you can shoot into the legal industry elite if you are at the right time at the right place. If you know about a booming market at the moment, it is a good idea to look at it. You never know what opportunity you might come across.

It often happens in markets, such as New York City or the Bay Area. I have personally placed multiple attorneys from small firms in Midwest to top law firms in major markets. Doing something like that increases your salary and allows you to work with more prominent clients. Working in a large law firm with a big name will improve your reputation and credibility for the future.

Having Skills That Are Wanted in a Different Market

Practice areas, such as bankruptcy or corporate law, tend to become popular in some markets but, at the same time, slow down in others. Some skills are also prevalent in one need but are scarce in other markets around the country or the world. When something like this happens, it is good to look in the market where your skills are needed.

For instance, corporate attorneys should always look outside New York or Bay Area law firms. In these markets, the competition is fierce. However, these skills are scarce in other markets, so there is a bigger chance of finding an excellent placement. Bay Area is also where standard patent or IP litigation attorneys are, but the competition is not as high in other markets. Looking at other markets worldwide is always an intelligent job search decision when your skills are familiar or not needed in your current market.

Being a Senior Attorney Without Business

Being a senior attorney without many transferrable businesses can be a real setback in any legal career, although it is pretty standard. Senior attorneys generally expect higher income because of their experience and higher billing rates, discouraging some clients from working with them.

If they are not bringing in business on their own, not every law firm will keep them around. Only law firms that value the skills of such a senior attorney and have enough business on their own can promote senior attorneys to partners. It can be challenging to find law firms that meet these conditions, so broadening the legal job search is usually a needed step.

We deal with attorneys like this as legal recruiters all the time, and relocating is the way to go. We successfully placed a senior patent attorney who was hopelessly looking for a placement in their home market in a major law firm. We also put a senior bankruptcy attorney to a New York law firm, even though they could not find a position in their smaller market.

Something in Your Background Prevents You From Getting Hired in your Current Market

Law firms consider only attorneys with the best credentials in very competitive markets, so if you do not come from the top law school or currently work in a no-name law firm, you will probably not succeed there. As with most job markets, law firms are working from a resume, cover letter, and information obtained from the interviews when selecting and hiring candidates. Therefore, it is tough for law firms to predict how an attorney will fit into their climate and become an influential team member.

It is often easily solved by searching in more markets. We have placed many attorneys who could not find positions in their current needs, but when they broadened their search and started looking in other major markets, they could get into prestigious law firms.

You Have Applied to All Law Firms In Your Market

Many attorneys are set on staying in their legal market. Once they are not successful in getting a job in the better law firms, they start applying to the smaller ones, and if the market does not need their skills, they will find themselves in a bind after using all law firms in their market. If something like this happens, the next step apart from starting a new career is looking in a different market and relocating.

Relocating has been the key to finding success for many attorneys who have been struggling for years. I see it every day with our clients at BCG Attorney Search. If you have applied to (almost) every law firm in your market, do not hesitate and start using it in other markets.

Negative Reputation in Your Current Market

A bad reputation is something you can get relatively quickly, but it is anything but easy to get rid of it. Sometimes a lousy rep results from a misunderstanding, and you might not have done anything terrible, but that does not matter. If you have a terrible reputation in your market that prevents you from getting your dream job, searching in a different market is the way forward. Usually, even if everyone is talking about you negatively in your market, no one will know about your past in a new place if you relocate far away enough.

Law Firms Consider Attorneys Who Look at More Markets To Be Better and With Fewer Issues Than Attorneys Who Look in One Market

Usually, if you are looking at a different legal market than your current one and you want to relocate, you have a reason for it. You typically want to relocate to a market where you went to school, grew up, where your partner lives, or have other ties. Some markets are so in demand that attorneys do not need a reason in their background for wanting to relocate there, markets like New York or the Bay Area.

Law firms generally see it as a positive thing when attorneys are relocating for these reasons (or to the markets where no real reason is needed). If the attorney chose that particular reason is a personal tie, the law firm assumes they will want to stay there long-term.

Suppose they are not relocating for having personal ties to a market. In that case, it is usually because of wanting to gain access to more sophisticated work or work in general when the attorney did not have that in their previous market. That is also a valid reason to relocate in the eyes of a law firm, and any hiring manager will look at that positively.

The Difference Between Switching Law Firms Within One Market vs. Relocating

Switching firms can sometimes be considered suspicious, significantly if you are changing firms within one legal market. Firms usually assume that there has been some conflict or clash between the attorney and the firm, which is why they are changing firms. However, if you are relocating to a different market while switching firms, it does not raise as many red flags. One of the previously mentioned reasons for relocating is usually something the firms think about when they get a resume from an attorney from a different market.

Most law firms tend to hire attorneys who are the least problematic and do not carry a lot of baggage from their previous positions. It is logical because attorneys often take their problems from law firm to law firm. If they had problems with colleagues in one firm, they would often have problems with their peers in the next one as well. If their main problem were their inability to deal with clients, they would probably have the same issues in their new firm, which employers want to avoid.

Yeah, you have one main reason, such as relocating for your family, to advance your career, but it is usually not considered disloyal to your current firm. If you are switching firms while relocating, you do not have to explain your decision. However, if you are switching law firms in your market, law firms expect you to say something negative about your current employer; otherwise, they consider such a switch a "disloyalty." These negative things could be:

Cultural Fit in a Law Firm

If you say that you want to switch firms because you do not fit into the law firm culturally, the interviewers might ask you why you started in the firm in the first place when you saw that there are people who are different from you. They could also assume that the problem with not fitting in is you - others do not like you, you are not trying to fit in, you behave arrogantly, etc.

Lack of Work in the Law Firm

It might seem like a highly valid reason for switching (and it is); however, when you say it as a reason for leaving a well-established law firm, interviewers will look at it as mostly your fault. These established law firms generally have enough clients and work to sustain their reasonable attorneys, so you are probably not one of the best if you are not getting the job assignments. Also, attorneys need to be political and proactive in securing their work. If you do not have enough work, law firms might assume that you lack skills that kept you from getting the job.

Partner With All the Business Left the Law Firm

If you say you are leaving a firm because the partner with all the business left, the main question any interviewer will ask you is why did they not take you with them? If you were any good, the partner would not want to lose you, right? Also, if you're going to leave the firm the moment an essential partner leaves, other law firms will probably be worried that you will leave them the moment a problem arises.

Want To Do More Complex Work

Looking to do more complex and vital work is generally considered a positive and ambitious trait. But when you put this at the forefront of your interview, law firms might get worried that you will want to leave again if you do not get the most sophisticated assignments in the firm. They may also be afraid that you think too highly of yourself and will not want to become a part of the team or stay in the firm for the long haul.

Lack of Opportunities

The thing with lack of opportunities is that reasonable attorneys always find and create them. Law firms value reasonable attorneys and do not want to lose them, so it can be viewed as a red flag if you start looking at different law firms to have more opportunities.

Seeking more opportunities also implies that you have certain expectations of the law firm about advancement possibilities, income, or the sophistication of the job. Law firms usually get scared about these types of requirements because there is always the possibility that if the attorney does not get what they want, they will leave.

Looking at Other Options

When looking around at other options in your legal market, law firms usually get suspicious. A vague statement like this might suggest other problems you do not want to talk about, such as being let go, having issues in your current firm, or just not being stable and wanting to switch firms often.

Low Morale in Current Law Firm

Complaining about low morale in your current law firm may suggest to your next potential employer that you are not someone who will stand behind the firm's leadership but will instead go with the flow of other employees. That is not something law firms want because they need lawyers who will help them and not cause problems.

Long Commute to the Law Firm

If you state a long or complicated commute to the firm as the reason for switching, it usually reflects poorly on you. The interviewers will ask you why did you take the job. Were there no other options? They may also not like that you do not consider the job important enough to endure that commute.

When moving to a new market, no one will bat an eye for any of these reasons. They are valid and reasonable. However, the moment you are moving law firms within a market, law firms start finding cracks and problems in them.


I have worked with many different legal industry people looking to switch firms, and you set many of them on staying in their current legal market. Every time I see an attorney with this outlook, I get sad because limiting your job placement options to only one call can be fatal for your legal career. Looking at more than one legal market is sometimes essential for advancing in legal, saving many stagnant jobs.

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published December 23, 2021

( 3 votes, average: 3.5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.