Lawyers on the Move

Lawyers on the Move

Making a geographical move along with your career move takes some planning and preparation. Candidates considering relocation, either within California or between states, should: clarify personal and professional reasons for moving to a particular geographical area; determine marketability in the target locale; if moving out of state, check into the Bar admission requirements; consider the additional costs and inconvenience of long distance interviewing and relocation; and research local salary ranges, cost of living and housing prices before beginning the search.

The first question most prospective employers ask about potentially relocating candidates is motivation: Why have you decided to move, and why here? Wanting to leave the cold and bask in California sunshine usually is not a sufficiently compelling answer. For many, the reason involves personal or family circumstances. If you are following a spouse or significant other to another part of the country, that is legitimate. However, potential employers are wary of candidates who may need to trail a significant other's moves every few years; they want a stable, long-term employee. Similarly, there is concern that you may not stay if the relationship falls apart.

A better answer would indicate roots or a commitment to practice in the new locale. Mention any family you have in the area, or if you went to school locally. Another good answer is if the area is especially known for a particular area of practice, such as entertainment work in Los Angeles or New York, life sciences in the Boston or San Diego areas, regulatory practice in Washington, DC, or IP work in Silicon Valley or another hotbed of tech development. If you have exceptional credentials and transferable skills in a "hot" practice area or in a particular specialty in which local candidates are rare, your relocation prospects are increased.

Generally, employers favor candidates who already are admitted to the Bar. Some will not consider even the most outstanding candidates who are not admitted in their jurisdiction. If, like California, your desired destination state does not grant reciprocity to attorneys admitted in other jurisdictions and you are not already admitted there, understand the prospective employer's concerns: costs of the prep course, study and test-taking time; risk you may not pass on your first attempt; and their inability to fully utilize your services until you are admitted. It can take up to six months to get Bar exam results and be admitted depending upon the state, during which litigators cannot sign pleadings or make appearances, as compared to transactional attorneys who may have more immediately useable skills. In the past, many corporations required only that attorneys be admitted to practice inany state; now, many are requiring admission in their particular state specifically.

Many candidates do not plan to take the Bar exam until after landing a new job. If you are serious about relocating and have sufficient lead time, however, it is best to take, or at least register and study for, the appropriate Bar exam before beginning your search. This shows commitment and initiative, and is viewed very favorably by prospective employers. The California and New York Bar exams are reputed to be the most difficult in the country, but preparation for any state's exam should be taken seriously, allocating sufficient study time, especially if you intend to continue working while preparing for the test.

Long-distance interviewing presents additional cost and scheduling challenges. In a booming market where firms are desperate to add talent, or if you have exceptional credentials or hard-to-find expertise, employers are much more willing to tackle those challenges. In a tight market, such as we have been experiencing for the past few years, many employers refuse to consider out of area candidates, sometimes even from within the state or as close as the next county.

Furthermore, prospective employers have been less willing to cover an out-of-town candidate's interviewing expenses for the initial interview while, in boom times, those flights, hotels, taxis and meals may have been covered. The candidate is expected to pay initial interview costs, therefore, it is best to combine as many in the same locale as possible. In some instances, if the candidate ultimately is hired, those expenses are reimbursed, but not always. If the prospective employer has multiple offices, the initial screening might be done at an office closer to the candidate, or a videoconference can be scheduled there including attorneys from other offices. Sometimes the initial screening can be done via telephone.

The costs of second or subsequent interviews customarily are covered by the prospective employer. If more than one firm is visited for a subsequent interview on the same trip, let them know you are looking at other opportunities, and costs may well be split among the prospective employers. Do not take advantage of the situation and insist on first-class airfare, expensive hotels, room service, or pricey meals. Remember that firms are trying to economize wherever possible, and follow their suggestions regarding transportation and lodging choices. Some prospective employers prefer that you use their travel agency to make arrangements. It is the candidate's responsibility to keep receipts and submit them to the appropriate party in a timely manner for reimbursement.

Once you receive an offer, ask about the firm's relocation and Bar exam taking policies. Some, but not all, firms extend their entry-level associate policies to lateral hires. These items, as with the terms of relocation packages, vary widely from firm to firm and are often the subject of negotiation. Get all terms in writing before making the move.

Then, get packing!

Valerie Fontaine
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