The challenges of long distance job search

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AFTER HER DIVORCE, Julia Grant fulfilled a life-long ambition and enrolled in law school. Summer vacations at the University of Virginia, Julia clerked for Longstreet & Lee, a small, general-practice firm in Atlanta. When she completed her legal studies, Julia was offered a position with the firm and over the past eight years her work has been in a general civil practice with an emphasis on estate planning.

Now in her early 50s, Ms. Grant is seriously considering a move to San Francisco. For one reason, she would like to be geographically closer to a son and daughter who live with their families in the area. For another, Julia believes that since she had begun her legal career as a student law clerk with the firm, and has stayed so long with Longstreet & Lee, that her abilities are taken for granted, undervalued. Some days she feels that senior members of the firm still treat her as a law clerk, rather than as a professional colleague.



Julia wants very much to move to the Bay area, but not without the prospects of a new job. The thought of a long-distance job search seems intimidating, since she lacks any legal contacts in California, far less a sense of the San Francisco legal market. Julia also worries that her age might be a hindrance.

Julia Grant's job long-distance job search illustrates the task often faced by lawyers in similarly situated life-situations. For example, new lawyers sometimes look for work in a distant area right after law school, military lawyers move to another part of the country after several years with the JAG, or lawyers take up residence in a new geographical area because of marriage or a spouse's corporate relocation.

A long-range job search is obviously more difficult than one closer to home, but many, if not most, of the same job-search techniques apply, and work equally as well thousands of miles away.

Some Suggestions

1. Do Your Homework. If you are not familiar with the area where you are relocating, then your first step is to do some research. The Internet can provide you with good background information of what life is like in most American urban areas. All over the internet, she can find a lot of general information about the community: real estate, educational institutions, neighborhood profiles, restaurants, and so on.

2. Connect with People. For all job seekers, but especially for a relocating lawyer, the answer is the same - the key to a successful job search in any location, but especially one beyond the horizon, is contacts, contacts and more contacts. To discover legal job opportunities in a far-off site, you need to find a way to plug into the experience and expertise - and especially the networks - of lawyers already working in the area. There are several easily available sources for identifying contacts in an unfamiliar territory:

  • Your Law School Career Office
Even though you may have avoided it during your law school days, the career development office has a particular service that can be of enormous benefit to a long-range job seeker. This service is called reciprocity, which means that you may be able to use the research and job-listing services of a local law school in the area where you are relocating.

Here is how to obtain reciprocity: The National Association of Law Placement's (NALP) Web has excellent links to the reciprocity policies of member law schools: www.nalp.org/schools/reciprocity/index.htm

Unfortunately, some law schools have not yet linked to this NALP list. As a result, you will find that a good secondary source for law school information is Cornell University's Legal Information Institute. They publish an Internet "Directory of Legal Academia" (www.law.cornell.edu/dla/). With the help of either the NALP or the Cornell directory, you can easily identify the name and address of the law school most accessible to your new location. Next, with this information in hand, contact the director of career services at your own law school and request a letter of reciprocity to the law school in your geographical area of interest.

Your law school's letter will ask that you be extended the courtesies of the distant law school's career placement office. In that way, after you move into your new area, you should be able to gain access, not only to the area directories, newspapers, and other resources provided by the career office, but you will also be able to browse the local legal job listings posted there.

Two caveats: Reciprocity is almost never granted between law schools within the same city or close geographic area. So before you seek reciprocity, check the Webs of all local law schools and select the school that would seem to be the one whose resources would be most beneficial to the goals of your job search.

Also be aware that a few law school career offices, for reasons best known to the schools themselves, do not grant reciprocity to alumni from other law schools. In addition, most law schools that do grant the courtesies of their career office to out-of-town job seekers will restrict the use of the reciprocity privilege during the hectic days of law firm on-campus interviews, usually from August through November.

Reciprocity practice varies from law school to law school, so it makes sense, after you introduce yourself, to ask the career office about times and terms of usage. Finally, be advised that for most law career offices reciprocity does not include career counseling. It also goes without saying that unemployed law school graduates are not permitted to participate in on-campus law firm recruiting.

  • Your Law School Alumni Office
Most major law schools publish some form of a law alumni directory - hard copy, CD, or on-line - that lists information about their law alumni: their names, addresses, firms or agencies, and the kind of law they practice. This law alumni directory, if used discreetely, can also be a particularly useful resource for the long-range job seeker.

If your law alumni directory is reasonably up to date, then use the directory to identify the names of your law school's alumni who are currently practicing law in your targeted geographical area. If you're not sure that the alumni information is current, then verify its listings through Martindale-Hubbell. It really doesn't matter whether or not these law alumni are practicing law in your particular area of specialization because your preliminary research will be focused on the general legal climate of the area you are considering.

Your next step, if at all possible, should be to take a week's "vacation" to visit your geographical area of interest. If this visit coincides with some CLE program, so much the better. Next, about three weeks before the time of your visit, introduce yourself with a letter to an alumnus living in your targeted area, briefly describe your plans, say that you will be in town at a particular period of time, and ask for a few minutes to gain some much needed advice about the local legal climate. Very few lawyers will turn down such an appeal from a fellow law alumnus.

Julia Grant discovered that there were about 12 University of Virginia Law School alumni working in the San Francisco Bay area. To be doubly sure, she checked this list against the Martindale & Hubbell listings. She was able to verify nine of the lawyers' names - six men and three women. With this information in hand, and the dates for her West Coast visit settled, she wrote each of these lawyers a letter that explained her intention to relocate to the West Coast and requested a brief meeting to introduce herself and obtain some friendly advice on the Bay area's legal climate and opportunities.

A sample of Julia's letter is on the following page. This letter is similar to Calista Kent's request for an informational interview exampled in Chapter 5. Note how a lawyer relocating out-of-town can easily adapt the same format. Like its counterpart, this alumni request letter also contains a "Disclaimer" in the third paragraph. These or approximate words are essential to one's request for a meeting. The disclaimer wording removes any pressure the reader might feel to provide the sender with instant job leads.

Julia received a positive reply from seven of her nine letters. One lawyer said that he expected to be in a major trial the week of May 12th, but asked her to call the next time she was in the area. Of the remaining six contacts, three wrote or e-mailed back. When Julia called the others, they said they were expecting her call and would be happy to see her. Four invited her to lunch.

Although none of the these lawyers practiced law in Julia's particular legal area, they were more than willing to share their perceptions of San Francisco. Most mentioned the high cost of living and all described the California Bar exam as a challenge. But all were encouraging and three even suggested names of other lawyers she should meet.

  • The Bar Association in Your Targeted Area
Do not overlook the directories and job-finder resources that are available for relocating lawyers in state, county or city bar associations throughout the country. Hieros Gamos (www.hg.org), the law portal, under "Bar Associations" has comprehensive state and local listings.

When Julia clicked on the San Francisco Bar Association Web site, www.sfbar.org, she could do searches on the names of firm and corporate attorneys, and could identify lawyers who practiced in her particular area of expertise. Affiliate membership in the San Francisco Bar is available to out-of-state lawyers. This membership offers use of the Association's office resources, and additionally provides access to job listings. Bar services are generally the same throughout the country, but if in doubt, a call to a particular office will provide information on specific services to relocating lawyers.

  • Local Newspapers and Publications
Another Web site, www.palidan.com/legal6.htm, has a comprehensive listing of legal periodicals, local and national. Most of these can be browsed for employment opportunities. If not, consider a short-term subscription to a local mass-market newspaper and to the regional or local legal paper.

3. Consult the Cost-of-Living Index

A critical task for out-of-town career movers is to determine salary requirements for their new geographical area. You can easily make a cost-of-living comparison between your old and new locations. The Cost-of-Living Index is produced by the American Chamber of Commerce Researchers Association (ACCRA). These Index numbers, with 100.0 as the national average, are based on the composite prices of groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, health care, clothing and entertainment for each of its listed cities. The Index for major metropolitan areas is published quarterly.

A sample ACCRA Cost-of-Living Index can be found at the Holland, MI, Web site: www.holland-chamber.org/hcccstlv.htm. This site uses ACCRA data for the first quarter, 2001. With simple math, Julia Grant can come up with an estimate of the level of compensation she would require in the San Francisco area, with a cost-of-living index of 179.8, to at least match the buying power of her present salary, in the Atlanta area, where the Index is 101.8.

To calculate the San Francisco Bay equivalent of a $52,000 Atlanta area salary, Julia would use this simple formula:

San Francisco: Atlanta         (179.8 x $52,000) / 101.8 = $ 91,842

Cost-of-living comparisons between some cities are surprising. Suppose that Julia receives an impressive offer of $75,000 from a San Francisco firm. To evaluate that offer in Atlanta dollars, she would reverse the order of the cities in the formula and come up with the buying power of the San Francisco offer:

Atlanta: San Francisco         (101.8 x $ 75,000) / 179.8 = $ 42, 464

In terms of buying power, she would obviously be taking a cut in salary, even though a quick glance at the raw figures would suggest a generous salary increase of $52,000 to $75,000.

For the mathematically challenged, ACCRA has a cost-of-living calculator at its own web site: www.coli.org. This service uses ACCRA's most recent quarterly Index statistics; the charge is $ 5.00 per search. Purdue University's placement office has a free cost-of-living calculator, using slightly earlier Index data (from 1999), although with a larger number of city Index numbers than those listed at the Holland, MI site. http://purdue.placementmanual.com. For comparison with another cost-of-living calculator, you might try: www.homefair.com.

A note about cost-of-living figures: Remember, when using a Web cost-of-living calculator, that Index numbers cited for a particular city may vary significantly from one Web site to another. These variables in Index ratings appear to be due to the date of the Index figures on which the individual calculators are derived.

4. Special Considerations

  • Bar Admission
An out-of-state legal employer will normally require admission to the bar of that state. Bar exams vary from state to state in their difficulty and requirements. Information on state bar admissions may be obtained online from the ABA's Guide to Bar Admissions at: www.abanet/legaled/bar.html

  • Interviewing
In your out-of-town marketing meetings, make your reasons for relocation clear. Employers, in areas with large transient populations, can be suspicious of the stability of job applicants, unless assured of the legitimacy of their motives. In her marketing meetings and job interviews, Julia should explain in very positive language her reasons for deciding to move from Atlanta - her family ties, the distance involved in holiday and vacation travel, and so on.

  • Moving Expenses
If you have initiated your-of-town move, then it may not be possible to expect moving expense reimbursement from your new employer. But you may be able to include some of these costs as a one-time benefit when negotiating your compensation package. See Chapter 10.

Journey's End

After her meetings with University of Virginia law alumni and cost-of-living comparisons, Julia decided to shift the focus of her job-search from San Francisco to the Sacramento area. Her daughter and family lived in Sacramento, a drive of only about an hour and a half away from San Francisco, but the cost of living in Sacramento seemed more in line with that of Atlanta.

Over the next month, Julia's follow-up efforts resulted in an offer from a Sacramento law firm (contingent on her passing the California bar) and two offers from investment companies to work with their clients in estate planning services. She accepted one of the investment firms' offers. This position did not require bar membership, but her law degree would be an excellent credential. Julia's remuneration, factoring in benefits, anticipated commissions, and cost-of-living, would be substantially higher than her salary with the Atlanta law firm. Her long-range job search ended successfully.



University of Virginia

    

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