Mind Your Business

What associates have to know about making a lateral move to a new market out of state

  • Print

Matthew Telford headshot

Matthew Telford.

The days when attorneys remained loyal to one firm for decades are, for the most part, long gone.

Whether they’re looking for more interesting and rewarding projects, greater partnership potential or simply a better work-life balance, lawyers today seldom hesitate to seek greener pastures. That includes moves to different jurisdictions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this shift, changing many associates’ priorities and prompting them to make the geographic and lateral career moves they might have been reluctant to pursue in the past. While most associates are currently remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a handful of firms are suggesting they will allow remote work in perpetuity, this, however, appears to be the exception rather than the rule.

Most firms, for various reasons, will eventually expect you to be resident and credentialed in the jurisdiction you support.

As the saying goes, YOLO (you only live once), and no one can fault you for wanting to maximize your professional and personal well-being by relocating to a new market. But before you apply for or accept that juicy job in uncharted territory, there are a few key things you should consider.

Mind Your Business logo

Licensure: Do you need to retake the bar exam?

When a state’s bar association admits a lawyer primarily based on his or her membership in another state’s bar, this is known as reciprocity. Unfortunately, reciprocity is not a standardized process across the United States. Although the American Bar Association has set forth guidelines for accepting outside attorneys, it’s up to each individual state to set its own rules.

Some jurisdictions have reciprocal agreements between them, which means applicants admitted to the bar of one state are allowed to “waive-in” to practice in another without having to take the state-specific bar exam. However, many states still require that the waiver applicant have some solid experience (typically multiple years) practicing law. And all states that participate in reciprocity will require you to be in good standing with your current state’s bar association.

Many states not partaking in reciprocity agreements have modified the admission requirements for external candidates, such as accepting a combination of a multistate bar examination and a minimum number of practice years. Several jurisdictions allow lawyers to take the Attorneys Exam only, which is the written portion of the bar exam. California, Maryland, Rhode Island and a few other states, for example, offer an abbreviated bar examination for lawyers who have been licensed to practice in other states for a certain length of time and are in good standing. (For specific state information, please consult the National Conference of Bar Examiners.)

Certain states, such as Louisiana and Florida, offer no reciprocity at all. This means that if you’re licensed to practice law in New York and accept a lateral position in Florida, you will be required to take and pass the Florida bar examination.

You should determine a jurisdiction’s rules before you decide to move there, as you could face having to take at least part of another bar exam. Some employers will cover this investment of time and money, but some won’t. Do your homework ahead of time to avoid unwanted bar exam pitfalls.

State-specific laws impacting your practice

State laws can differ greatly, and depending on your practice area, relocating to a new state could mean major changes in the way you practice. It’s your responsibility to understand the laws and regulations that impact your clients. Keep in mind that you’ll likely need to invest at least some time and effort in getting familiar with your new state’s laws and ethics and learning new court rules. Employers will expect you to operate at your class level and become familiar with local procedure quickly.

The state’s law library is a good place to start getting up to speed; do some research on the laws, cases and treatises that are pertinent to the types of matters you work on. In addition, most state bar websites have ethics guidelines applicable to that jurisdiction.

Networking: Find your people

It can feel daunting leaving the safety net of your professional network when you relocate to a new firm or region. After all, you’ve spent years nurturing that network over countless internal meetings, industry events and casual conversations by the watercooler.

In the legal industry, in particular, building and maintaining valuable connections and relationships is key to career longevity. That’s why you should prioritize networking when you’re making a lateral move to a new market—especially if it’s one with a fewer connections to your law school.

Get involved in your new community by joining local boards or committees or volunteering for charitable endeavors. Meet other legal professionals by attending area networking events. Then, once you’ve made some contacts, make it a point to stay in touch via phone, email or social media and schedule occasional coffee meetups.

Immersing yourself in your new social surroundings is a great way to build a fresh base of referrals and plant the seeds for professional and business development. Having resources you can call on for support and advice is also beneficial to your mental health and will help your new digs feel like home faster.

Moving costs: Plan smart

Uprooting your entire life from one location to another is not only stressful, it can be pricey.

According to HomeAdvisor, hiring movers costs an average of $1,362, but can be impacted by how far you’re moving, the size of your residence, the time of year, and how much you’re transporting in terms of belongings.

In some cases, your new employer may be willing to cover the costs of moving. According to a survey by Allied, approximately 26.4% of people relocating for a job received some coverage for moving expenses, and 15.75% of survey participants received assistance with temporary living costs.

If your new firm doesn’t offer help with moving expenses, there are steps you can take to reduce your relocation costs. These include avoiding peak moving season (May to August), doing all your own packing, and getting assistance from friends and family. Personally, as someone who has done a cross-country move not once but twice, I’ve found that the cheapest way to do it is to sell all your furniture and move “light.”

Salary vs. cost of living: Do your research

If the compensation package tied to your new job offer is significantly more than what you’re making now, it may feel like a windfall. But before you start envisioning your new-and-improved lifestyle, take a minute to consider the cost of living (e.g., housing, transportation, food and health care) in the area to which you’re moving.

The differences from one city to the next can be staggering. For example, the median price for a three-bedroom home in Jacksonville, Florida, is $276,954 while this figure jumps to a whopping $979,637 in Orange County, California. So, relocating from Jacksonville to Anaheim means your dollar won’t stretch nearly as far. Cost of living matters—a lot.

NerdWallet offers a handy calculator to help you compare the cost of living between two American cities.

The bottom line

Relocating to a different area of the United States could have a significant and positive impact on your legal career. However, it should be a strategic and well thought-out move, as there are multiple factors that can affect your experience.

Don’t be afraid to tap into those who are able and willing to help you in this decision—including your peers, mentors and professional recruiters. While relocation is a personal and variable decision, taking advantage of the currently dynamic environment and making a strategic lateral move can offer associates a vast array of new opportunities for professional growth and development.

Matthew Telford is a director in the associate practice group at legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, where he helps lawyers successfully navigate their careers.

Mind Your Business is a series of columns written by lawyers, legal professionals and others within the legal industry. The purpose of these columns is to offer practical guidance for attorneys on how to run their practices, provide information about the latest trends in legal technology, and how it can help lawyers work more efficiently, and strategies for building a thriving business.

Interested in contributing a column? Send a query to [email protected].

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.