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The Long-Distance Job Search for Lawyers, Part One

By Wendy Werner

Finding a new job is hard enough when you are looking in your own backyard, but the difficulty level increases when you are job hunting from states away. It may be easier, of course, if you are heading back to a place you once lived or if you have local family ties—but what if you simply want to move to your dream locale?

Tips for a Smoothly Running Long-Distance Job Hunt

There is no doubt that job hunting is more difficult across country, but it isn’t impossible. For starters, you have to make a commitment to your new location and start taking the individual steps necessary to get there. If you are methodical and practical, your search will go more smoothly.

  • Pass the bar. The most obvious first hurdle is the bar examination in your target state. Having a law license in the new state is critical to being taken seriously when applying for a position. Contact the state bar association and get the process in motion—whether it be reciprocity filing or registering for the next examination.
  • Create a timeline. Putting a timeline together for relocation is a key element to actually getting there. Without a target in place, you are more likely to drift. To ensure everything gets done within the needed timeframe, plan activities backward from your likely relocation date to the present. Planning is essential.
  • Tap state bar resources. The state bar is a good place to begin the job search process. Many have practice management advisors (PMAs) on staff who are available to assist lawyers in starting a law practice and can point you to helpful resources for practicing in their state. So a call to the local PMA would be a good place to start gathering information about the lay of the land. Just remember that all of their services might not be available to you until you have a local license.
  • Join the local bar. If you want to relocate to a particular city, you should probably join that local bar and the sections and committees that relate to your practice area and interests. You’ll begin to receive information about local activities and get an idea of the robustness of the organization.
  • Your old college ties. The alumni office of your college and law school can help you locate former classmates who practice law across the country to contact for networking purposes. Look for people with similar backgrounds or those who may have experience with relocating themselves.
  • Don’t forget social media. LinkedIn is an excellent resource for finding connections to individuals and groups in your target state. Think of it as “networking on the couch.” LinkedIn and other social media are powerful tools that can be accessed any time, to help you make new connections outside of work hours.
  • Be there, on the ground. Reconnaissance trips are essential. To avoid wasting your time and resources, however, make sure to plan effectively. Set up as many face-to-face meetings as you can—well in advance—and seek advice and input from everyone you meet. Ask for referrals to other resources and try to meet with lawyers who have relocated from outside of the state.

To help make the transition to your new location, take steps to quickly establish yourself in the community. Participate in bar and other community activities. Look for opportunities to write for local publications, for example, or to speak at local events on your area of expertise. Take particular care to show your gratitude to all who help you along the way. Once you’re settled in your new locale, they could be both your friends and colleagues.

Next Time

In part two, we’ll talk about tactics for standing out among other job candidates from a distance—even if that means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Stay tuned!

Wendy L. Werner is a career coach and practice management consultant for lawyers and professional services firms, and an award-winning photographer. She is a member of the ABA Law Practice Today editorial board, has a master’s degree in Personnel Administration and Counseling from Indiana University, and served  as the Assistant Dean of Career Services at Saint Louis University School of Law.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Legal Career Development
Originally published September 1, 2011
Last updated June 22, 2013
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Wendy Werner

Wendy Werner was an acclaimed photographer, a sought-after career strategist and social justice advocate. A longtime career coach and practice management consultant at Werner Associates, Wendy most recently served as ArchCity Defenders’ founding board chair, stewarding the organization for over 12 years as it became an established force for justice in the St. Louis region. She was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and served on several ABA Law Practice Division boards, including as chair of the Publishing Board. Wendy died at her home in Saint Louis on January 3, 2022, after a long battle with cancer. She was 69.


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