Practice Areas By Geography – A Frequently Overlooked Factor

Attorneys make geographical moves for all sorts of reasons – better career opportunities, family obligations, better lifestyle options (if you are a surfer, for instance, the Midwest is likely not your top choice of location), etc.  Attorneys also pick their practice area for all sorts of reasons – personality, prior educational or professional background, long-term career goals (as myself and many of our other recruiters have pointed out in the past, if your ultimate goal is an in-house position, you will significantly increase your odds by choosing a transactional practice from the outset).

What many attorneys may fail to consider in choosing a practice area or geography, however, is that the number of job opportunities in particular specialized practice areas may be moderately or severely impacted by geographic location, and this is something that is worth keeping in mind as you evaluate your long-term career prospects as a young attorney.

For instance, I am working with a candidate whose practice specialty is data privacy and internet security matters.  In my region, the West Coast, the opportunities for a significant practice in that sector are relatively limited.  You may find this counter-intuitive, since Silicon Valley is located right here in California (not to mention the substantial tech sector presence in Seattle), but in terms of the legal side of these issues, most of that action happens in the policy world of D.C. (and, adjacently, New York).  You may find a practitioner here or there, or even a full practice group in the case of some Seattle-based offices and regional firms, but by and large, the east coast is definitely where the action is.

Similarly, a patent attorney candidate I recently worked with got back in touch to let me know he may have to relocate to Vermont following his partner’s medical residency selection process.  Burlington is an awesome city, and the med school at Vermont has a top-notch program, but in terms of patent law work, I would be hard pressed to find more than two or three firms that service that sector.

On a more local level, public policy related work is very often concentrated in the political capital of the state – to be certain, there are great opportunities to do public policy, health care, land use, and certain types of environmental law in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but a substantial percentage of the formal lateral opportunities for such work will confine you to the greater Sacramento area.

If you have a significant passion for a particular type of law, or want/need to be located in a particular part of the country, I will be the last person to stand in your way, but if you are choosing among a variety of options while formulating your career goals, it is worth your time to do the research and choose practice areas and geographic locations that will provide you with the greatest amount of opportunity in the long term.

As always, best of luck with your career!

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