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The great (legal) migration

The COVID pandemic changed a few things.  

We know what an N-95 mask is and have learned that singing Happy Birthday twice is a great way to gauge how long you should wash your hands.  

We’ve also learned that we can work well remotely. The world now has Zoom towns, where people live while working elsewhere and shifting demographics generally. 

Suddenly we don’t feel so constrained by geography. People are leaving expensive places like New York and Silicon Valley for more reasonable digs in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere.  

What does this mean for lawyers: opportunity. Demographic shifts have left law firms with big empty offices and demand for legal services that they can’t meet. The opportunity is especially pronounced in Florida. But there are opportunities around the country for those with the expertise and qualifications.  

In this post, I’ll talk about the opportunities and a couple of the risks. 

Miami is 2022’s boomtown

Gazing out the windows at empty streets in New York during the pandemic lockdown, thousands of people had the same thought: I wish I were at the beach. 

So, they moved to Miami.  

Miami is now the hottest legal market in the country. The Miami boom started before the pandemic with retirees moving to South Florida, but the pandemic fueled the flames. Droves of lawyers moved to South Florida to escape the dreariness of city lockdowns. Many have stayed.  

It wasn’t just lawyers who moved: other companies have moved and expanded operations in Florida, driving up demand for legal services.  

New demand has sparked an enormous investment by law firms, which have opened offices with skeleton crews occupying otherwise empty floors in big, beautiful offices. The intent is clear: hire and grow.  

As big well-heeled firms move into Florida, they hire lawyers away from established local firms.

But the local firms don’t have enough lawyers to sate the demand and, anyway, they’re still busy. The work hasn’t gone away; only the people to do the work. So, now, everybody is looking for lawyers to fill the gap. 

The “word on the street” is this is just the beginning. More firms are looking to make a move, which is guaranteed to exacerbate the situation. 

So the question is: do you have the Florida bar? 

There are firms in Miami with 8-10 partners who want 100, and it looks like demand will continue.  

But you can’t waive into the Florida bar, so the legal talent pool is small. 

Now is an excellent time to be able to practice law in Florida. Strong demand and limited supply mean that Florida lawyers have a lot of negotiation power. 

So, if you have the Florida bar or are willing to take the time to take the exam and want to move to Florida, now is the time.  

But it isn’t just Florida

Florida is blazing hot at the moment, but there are a lot of other opportunities out there. Similar dynamics are at play: COVID drove a move to cheaper environments, and hybrid has made living where you want to live a more permanent possibility.  

At first, the action was in Texas, where Dallas, Houston, and Austin are still very busy. Even though they aren’t Miami busy, they are very exciting, and you can waive into the Texas bar, so it is easier to make the switch. 

But hybrid work and personal choices have opened up other markets as well.  

Once law firm partners realized that hybrid was here to stay and could actually live where they wanted, other hot spots popped up. 

Lawyers are adjusting to working remotely, but some firms are also making geographic adjustments.  Many have noticed that great legal talent lives in less traditional markets. So we are seeing demand for lawyers, especially law firm partners with books of business, in those markets.  

Aside from those cities I’ve already mentioned, we see demand in:

  • Phoenix, 
  • Denver, 
  • Las Vegas and 
  • Salt Lake City and
  • Charlotte 

But if you aren’t in any of these cities, many others in the midwest and the South East are very busy – so if your target city isn’t on the list, don’t despair. 

Lawyers are finding that these cities are great because they can get to their offices or clients’ offices if needed while also enjoying a lower cost of living.  

(As an aside, a few firms seem to have quietly expanded their operations in Los Angeles, which is not an inexpensive cost of living, nor is it in a state that is easy to move to since you can’t waive into the California bar, but it could be an exciting option if you want to live in LA.) 

What this means for law firm partners

The great legal migration gives you options. 

First, if you are at a firm that does not give you the flexibility to live where you want to live, maybe you should consider finding a firm that does.  

An increasing number of firms have discovered that flexibility is a crucial way to retain talent and serve clients. Hybrid working and remote working work, so if you are a law firm partner with a book of business, you should be able to live and work where you want.  

There are also many secondary market opportunities. If you like going into an office but want to live in Phoenix (or Denver, or Las Vegas, or Salt Lake City), there may be an excellent opportunity for you to do so. 

(And if you have been admitted to the Florida bar and want to move to South Florida, there is absolutely an opportunity).  

Long term, this may strain the legal business model

Law firms are currently hiring at above-market rates in these secondary markets. That is great for you if you are a law partner moving to a secondary market.  

But it could lead to an issue with the business model. 

If firms overpay in secondary markets, they may have to underpay in major markets to balance the books. Some firms are already finding that pay and billing discrepancies are creating financial issues, and long-term, it is not sustainable.  

So, law partners wanting to make the switch should lock in the better deals while they still exist. And, it is worth recognizing that long-term moving to a secondary market may lead to lower billable rates and less pay. 

Only time will tell how this financial tension will sort itself out. 

The bottom line: now is a good time to move

Florida is a huge opportunity, and for law firm partners admitted to the Florida Bar or willing to take the bar exam, now is a great time to move to South Florida. 

But even outside of Florida, opportunities abound, COVID has created a shift in the market, and the equilibrium looks pretty far off.  

So if you are considering a move, now is an exciting time.

At Gillman Strategic Group, we work with successful law firm partners and help them enjoy practicing law by finding their exact right, perfect fit law firm. (In the exact right, perfect place!) If you are a law firm partner thinking about making a move, contact us here or get started by downloading your business plan template here.