If there ever was a poster child for lawyers who constantly move their legal practice from state to state, that would be me. I am licensed and practice law in four states: California, Iowa, Texas, and Florida. I have lived in all of them, been in courthouses in each of them, taken the bar in two of them, and waived into the bar for two of them. I have had clients in each state and still do.
Most lawyers spend their career in one state and dread taking one bar exam, let alone a second. Transferring a practice from one state to another does not even seem like a possibility or an achievable dream. Perhaps I practice law a little too close to Disney World these days, but I believe that any dream is possible. If you take the leap of relocating across state lines to grow your business, you might discover it’s the best thing that ever happened to your law practice.
What are some lessons that I learned from moving my legal practice from state to state? First, plan ahead. If you know exactly where you are going, take the bar before you move. Having the bar exam out of the way can be quite an advantage in finding a job or starting your practice. If at all possible, waive in. In states with reciprocity, you can avoid taking another bar exam if you have practiced long enough. Know the bar admission rules of each state where you intend to practice. This can be particularly important where a few months of delay might mean the difference between meeting longevity of practice requirements so you can waive in, versus having to take another bar exam in its entirety.
Sometimes, unfortunately, advanced planning goes out the window. Depending on the career opportunity that presents itself, you might need to move first and then take the bar exam or waive into your new state bar once you get there. Regardless, learn the state’s requirements ahead of time—that way, if you still have an opportunity to take the least restrictive route to admission, you can go for it.
Before you move to your new state, do everything you can to maximize your opportunity there. Begin researching and utilizing possible referral sources and connections. Sign up for the local bar association. Investigate possible court panels or appointments. Announce your move to your colleagues and friends and list on your website your new location and anticipated move date. You can even set up a local virtual office site ahead of time. You also may consider broadening your practice to include areas of the law that might be transferable or “national,” such as immigration or tax law.
You also need to plan for the cases you currently have. Prepare your current clients for your move and strategize how to maintain these clients at a distance. Logistically, will you be able to keep practices in both states open for the time being or for good? For example, can you get local coverage attorneys for appearances in your old state? Alternatively, can you sell your current cases to generate funds to help you financially as you transition to your new state? And how are you going to transfer your files to the new state? Are you going completely paperless? Have you thought about the logistics of the move and the impact on your practice, such as the downtime that may occur for phone systems, faxes, etc.? Of course, don’t forget to update your contact information with the bar of your current state.
More importantly, find a mentor on local practices before or after you move. Local practice can be different even within a state, so find resources: Attend local CLEs, network with the local bar, visit attorneys in the area, hunt down local listserves, and make a point of introducing yourself to colleagues on the bench or in your practice area when you arrive.
Once you arrive, you can also volunteer at local community events and volunteer for bar association projects. Volunteer work in your local area can lead to new clients and the opportunity to get involved in the community quickly. Make sure you are aware of local panels and sign up for them to obtain legal work.
Another good source of legal work is local attorneys who have overflow work. Such overflow work may pay at a significantly reduced rate, but it’s important to get the work so that you can quickly integrate into the community. Temporary contract agencies may also tide you over after you move.
If you take the opportunity to grow your business, your move to a new state can truly be a positive experience. The important thing is to get involved in your new community and maintain the business from your old state while enjoying the journey.