January/February 2003  Volume 29, Issue 1
January/February 2003
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From Rust Belt to Sunshine
by Theda C. Snyder

Many lawyers are discontented with their current situation but feel there is no way out. One option is to move, but getting admitted to practice in another state can seem like an insurmountable hurdle. I had wanted to move from Chicago to Los Angeles for a long time. It took a year from the time I finally decided to go until I made the move.

In February 1991, I made my first inquiries about getting admitted in California, a state with no reciprocity. I was already late for registering for the July exam and had to pay an additional fee. Plus, there had been no national ethics exam when I was admitted in 1977. Now I had to take that one as well.

Like everyone else, I had heard stories about how hard the California exam was, and I knew I needed a bar review course. I contacted BAR/BRI, which at that time conducted prep classes for the most popular states by videotape in various cities. For six weeks, I worked at my solo practice by day and attended bar review classes at night. No one but my husband knew I was doing this. Imagine the impact on your marketing efforts if the word was out that you were leaving town!

Long-Distance Job Hunting
I also started taking the Los Angeles daily legal newspaper and applying for jobs. I quickly learned that no one wanted to talk to someone who wasn't already living in California, let alone not admitted to the bar. So I contacted an office suites company and arranged to use a Los Angeles mailing address and phone number. Calls were automatically forwarded to my office in Chicago and mail was forwarded by the office suites company. To avoid misleading anyone, I explained in my job application letters that I was admitted in Illinois and would be sitting for the July California exam.

I traveled to Los Angeles for the bar exam, and did some networking without result. At the end of November, I got the news that I had passed the exam and could be sworn in the following month. I arranged for several interviews in California for the week of the ceremony, again without result.

Then, in late January 1992, a "Bridge the Gap" course was offered during the same week as a business trip I had planned for Dallas. I was hoping for some networking opportunities at the course, so I purchased an airline "circle ticket" (Chicago-L.A.-Dallas-Chicago). Again, I arranged interviews in Los Angeles for the same week. I was offered a job the evening before I left Los Angeles for Dallas.

Upon returning to Chicago that Sunday, I had two weeks to close up my practice before starting my new life as an L.A. lawyer. I arranged to hook up my clients with new lawyers and to withdraw from my cases. In one instance, where I had tried the first half of a bifurcated trial, the judge would not let me withdraw-notwithstanding there was new, competent counsel well-known to the judge, standing at my side at the hearing on the motion to withdraw. The new lawyer filed an appearance and tried the second half of the case, but I remained of record, a scary situation.

I also notified my landlord and reached an amicable arrangement to terminate my office lease. I sold most of my furniture for barter credits, which I used to rent a corporate apartment in Los Angeles.

On Saturday, February 15, 1992, I arrived to a sunny, warm Los Angeles day with two bankers boxes, two suitcases and a carry-on. I drove to my corporate apartment in a rental car, and I started my new job that Monday. My husband, who stayed in Chicago to sell our house, arranged for his company to transfer him six months later. We have never regretted the move to sunny California.

Theda C. Snyder ( snydert@att.net) is a lawyer and Structured Annuity Specialist with Ringler Associates in Encino, CA. She is the author of the Law Practice Management Section book Running a Law Practice on a Shoestring (ABA 1997). She can be reached at (818) 990-6560.