It’s becoming both easier and more popular to make a geographic lateral move to another Biglaw firm as an associate. This is the result of a few trends:
- The expansion of the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) to more states across the country means that it’s easier for lawyers to get admitted into multiple states at once and/or transfer bar exam results from one state to another.
- More associates are motivated to move than ever. The pandemic has accelerated a variety of personal and professional reasons to change where and how Biglaw associates are working.
- Practice groups at Biglaw firms are also “nationalizing,” meaning that if a firm has demand for talent in a particular legal service, they will look to staff up across multiple offices.
But when it comes to considering a geographic move as a Biglaw lateral associate, it is hard to know where to start. Here are answers to some FAQs on the process:
How do I find a legal recruiter for my geographic move?
Most legal recruiters are identified through personal referrals. But if you don’t know any attorneys in your target market, this might not be possible. Conduct an online search and take a look at some legal recruiter directories. Most recruiters are clear on their websites about who they work with and where. (Through Gridline Search + Consulting, for example, I primarily work with New York City firms, DC firms, Boston firms, and Bay Area firms, using recruiter connections and industry knowledge I gained through my time as a law school career advisor.)
I like my current firm. I just need to move geographically for personal reasons. Should I just ask for an office transfer?
Maybe. But does that other office have the practice area that you work in? Is the culture of the other office the same as your current one? Do you know anyone in the new office that would be interested in advocating for your office transfer? Will your current team help you make the move or will it be hard for them to let you go? If the answers to these questions present complications, it may be best to look for a new employer in your target market.
When is the right time to make a geographic move?
As a Biglaw associate, you are most marketable for a lateral move with two to five years of experience. This is generally true whether you are looking to stay in the same market or make a geographic move.
I am expecting a year-end bonus from my current firm. Should I wait until I receive it to start looking?
No. When making a geographic lateral move, you want to take advantage of opportunities when they exist. If you wait several months before you even start looking, you may miss out on a key opening or need. Additionally, your recruiter can help you navigate the timing of a start date or possibly negotiate coverage of any lost bonus by the new firm.
What if I am not admitted into the state where I plan to move?
Start by taking a look at the bar admission resources provided by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). If you are a junior associate admitted to a UBE state, you may still be able to port that score to another UBE state. If you are a senior associate, you may be eligible for “admission by motion” to the new state based on your years of continuous practice in your current state. If something is unclear from a website or written resource, don’t rely on word of mouth. Reach out to the state’s board of bar examiners directly.
Firms will require that you eventually be admitted into the state where they are located. If you ultimately need to take a new bar exam, sometimes the firm will even give you time off and cover expenses while employed at the new firm. (This is more often provided to corporate associates making a lateral move than to litigation associates).
Will the firm fly me out for an interview? Will they pay the expenses?
When interviewing a candidate from another market, most large firms will start with a video screening interview. After this, there will be at least one round of full interviews, with most Biglaw firms also doing these interviews virtually. If the firm requires an in-person interview, most large law firms will pay for reasonable expenses related to this trip.
Will the new firm pay for my relocation expenses?
In most cases, yes they will. In terms of the exact amount and method, this is something that typically gets negotiated when an offer of employment is made through your recruiter.
My spouse got a new job already, so I need to make the move as soon as possible. How long does the process typically take?
Timing for a geographic move as a lateral associate depends on a lot of factors – your target market, your level of experience, your practice, your current firm, your credentials, etc. It could take a couple weeks to move or it could take several months or more. You will want to talk with your recruiter about the urgency of your timing and what you can expect for timing.
Making a geographic lateral move takes time and assistance. If you or someone you know needs advice on making such a move, you can schedule a free legal career advising appointment at gridlinesearch.com. Jason McCann provides candidate-focused legal search service with the perspective of an experienced career advisor.