Associates in the Trenches

Changing States

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After having a child last year, Idaho lawyer Sallye N. Quinn and her husband decided they needed more flexibility in their childcare options. In December, the family left Boise for Washing­ton state, to be closer to Quinn’s parents. “If my son gets sick, they can come help out,” she says. When interviewed for this story, Quinn’s move was a week away. At her new job the pay will be lower, but the billable hour requirement is also reduced. She expects to be at work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., allowing her more family time.

Packing up and moving to a different state is often an option for lawyers who, like Quinn, want to pursue goals or opportunities that aren’t readily available where they live. But many young lawyers who have done it caution that with bar exams, varying local court rules and different legal climates–in addition to divergent real estate markets and drastically distinctive social scenes–moving can create as many problems as it solves.

“It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, but it was rough,” says Victoria E. Wu, who moved from Flo­rida to Washington, D.C., a few years ago to work at the Fed­eral Elections Commission. She left behind a litigation associate position and now focuses on administrative law. A concern, Wu recalls, was that she liked litigation. A partner advised her that if she switched practices, and later wanted to come back to litigation, it might take a while to re-enter the field.

But because Wu already knew the commissioner from law school–and was interested in Washington, D.C., life–she decided to take the risk.

“For people who are gregarious and adventurous, and like to explore, this is a great town,” she says. “At first it was a real shift, but eventually you get used to it.”

Lawyer without a Practice

Wu didn’t take the Washington, D.C., bar exam because her job doesn’t involve court appearances. But Deborah A. Smith, a litigator who recently moved from Missouri to California, wasn’t so lucky.

A seventh-year associate, she was transferred by her law firm from Kansas City to San Francisco last May. She took the bar exam in July, while working part time.

Under California law, attorneys who reside in the state cannot be waived in to practice pro hac vice. Until No­vember, when Smith learned that she passed the state bar exam, her work was limited to legal research.

“I couldn’t write letters or call plaintiffs’ counsel. I couldn’t go to a deposition and I couldn’t appear in court,” she says. “So I did a lot of behind-the-scenes, less exciting stuff.”

The move also required a lifestyle adjustment. In Kan­sas City, Smith owned a three-story, vintage home. San Francisco real estate prices are significantly higher, and she now rents a two-bedroom apartment. Parking is another issue. “I never thought I would have to pay for park­ing if I went to the grocery store or the dentist,” she says.

Even if you’re moving back to your hometown, expect some adjustments, says Michelle Marie Gallardo, a De­troit native who first practiced in Miami, then moved back to Detroit after getting an in-house job with Ford Motor Co.

The move was inspired by a desire to be closer to family, coupled with wanting an in-house, large corporation job. Gallardo’s wishes were granted, but her social life was the trade-off. Michigan is a “very suburban, married place,” Gallardo says, and she’s single. “I just didn’t understand how drastically it affected things socially.”

But fun is where you find it. Since Gallardo returned to Detroit in 2000, she’s managed to meet a fair amount of single people, many of whom she got to know through American Bar Association activities.

And while the Miami nightlife might offer a bit more than Detroit, working for one of the country’s largest corporations, Gallardo says, is exciting enough. “For me,” she says, “this was an opportunity to bring a different level of sophistication to my practice.”

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