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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

November 27, 2016

Why are employers so biased against relocation candidates? Would attending an MBA or LLM program in my desired city help my candidacy?

Julie Q. Brush

The marketability of a lawyer seeking to move his/her practice to another zip code is a bit like determining the value of real estate. It’s all about…Location, location, location.

Location is the single largest hurdle to clear for lawyers seeking to relocate to another city, state or country. And being tagged with “non-local” status can greatly compromise a candidacy. In today’s market, employers strongly prefer to hire candidates who live in the same city (and sometimes prefer the same county) as the office where the candidate will physically work. If the local talent pool is weak (i.e. due to candidate “quality” issues or a lack of the required practice expertise), employers will rely more heavily on other geographic markets. But if the local candidate pool is robust, employers will consider these lawyers first as they begin their hiring process. Even employers “open” to considering candidates from outside their area will almost always prioritize the local candidates first. Why? In addition to relocation costs, there are added “flight risks” associated with a relo candidate when one or more of the following variables exist:

  • The city has a high cost of living, which includes expensive housing
  • The candidate has had no prior residence in the city/state/province
  • The candidate has no friends/family in the area
  • Weather
  • The candidate is coming from a geographic region with a vastly different culture so s/he may not be able to acclimate to a new culture, different way of practicing law, interacting or doing things.
  • The employer fears the candidate will use their opportunity to move back to the area and then leave quickly for a “better” position.
  • The significant other ultimately won’t want to leave the candidate’s current city – or won’t want to stay once a move is complete.

Given this market reality, relocating isn’t easy. And many lawyers who experience frustration with its challenges contemplate different strategies to overcome them. One strategy is attending an LL.M. or MBA program in the desired city to re-establish “local” status. So how wise is this path?

If you have the financial means, attending a graduate program in your city of choice could be a good strategic move. It removes the geography objection to your candidacy, can provide you with added skills and professional marketability (depending on the program) and can integrate you into the local business/legal communities where you can build your networks and maximize your employment opportunities. In addition, this path can improve your overall quality of life and happiness – as you will now live in the city you desire and perhaps your friends and family will be closer and more integrated in your day-to-day living.

Pursuing an LL.M. is the most logical choice – as it is a natural enhancement to your law degree. If you choose this path, attend the most prestigious LL.M. program you can – and one that offers a degree in your substantive area of interest and background. If you opt for the MBA, be mindful of prestige and be clear about why you want the degree and how it will enhance your legal candidacy. As you re-enter the workforce, employers will want to know why you deviated from the law to pursue a business degree – and some may be skeptical of your interest to return to law. Regardless of which degree you pursue, maximize your opportunity by advancing your knowledge and developing new skills to help you become a better lawyer and professional. Then be prepared to articulate how they do.

Despite today’s legal and corporate globalization, challenges remain for lawyers who seek to relocate themselves and their practices. Non-local status is the biggest hurdle for most candidates, but options exist to overcome or mitigate the issue. Simply moving to your desired city is the easiest strategy – either to look for work without a current job, or to further an education. So if you have the financial resources…and you want to get back ‘home’, the path of higher education is a viable one to get you there.

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Another great post! I would add that from an employer's standpoint, there is a distinction between a candidate that wants to relo to a specific city, and one who is willing to relo to a bunch of cities. Data on the resume, the LinkedIn profile, the cover letter, and from the phone screen establishing a connection to the specific city will elevate a candidate above the run of the mill remote applicant. I would also note that no one wants to think about the possibility that the hire could fail, but good hiring managers do. All other things being equal, if I have to let someone go because of their performance or the organization's performance, I know that will be worse on the relo candidate than a local candidate, who should have a more robust local network.

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