Best Legal Recruiters in San Diego for Associates


Legal recruiters in San Diego can help you break into this hot market full of lawyers who love living in Southern California.

Key Terms

  • The tech and life sciences industries in San Diego are booming and bring in a lot of legal work, both in transactions and litigation.
  • Many of the largest U.S. Biglaw firms have offices in San Diego, but there is also enough legal work to support smaller and midsize firms.
  • Feel free to email me if you want help finding a recruiter in San Diego.

San Diego is a city in California, sitting on the Pacific coast and on the border with Mexico. It’s well known for its parks, warm climate, beaches, and the renowned San Diego Zoo located in Balboa Park. Balboa Park has numerous museums, art galleries, gardens, and artist studios. San Diego is the eighth most populous city in the United States of America and the second most populous in California, after Los Angeles.

Currently, the median sales price for a detached home in the greater San Diego area is around $969,000 and $630,000 for attached homes, such as condos, according to the San Diego Association of Realtors. Home prices vary widely in different areas of San Diego County.

The engine room of San Diego’s economy is powered mainly by international trade, military and defense-related activities, manufacturing, tourism, and research. The primary border shared between San Diego and Tijuana is said to be the busiest land border crossing internationally outside of Asia.

San Diego has the headquarters of two Fortune 500 companies: the energy company Sempra (the parent company of utility San Diego Gas & Electric) and chipmaker Qualcomm. The Navy is the largest employer in San Diego, but large private employers in San Diego include Scripps Health and Kaiser Permanente. On the smaller side, San Diego has a startup ecosystem that is incubating and growing new businesses.

There are 19,416 lawyers living in San Diego County according to the American Bar Association. The legal market in San Diego is largely driven by real estate companies, entertainment industries, tech companies, and corporate work generally. The market is highly competitive with law firms having relatively small numbers of associates due to their small to medium sized offices in San Diego.

San Diego has a growing market for biotech which is supported by the law firms in the jurisdiction. Lawyers who are looking at being part of the San Diego County Bar Association and working in the San Diego legal market can explore several practice areas, and some of the hot practice areas presently are labor & employment, litigation, private equity, and intellectual property in areas concerning biotech and electrical/mechanical engineering. 

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Top law firms in San Diego

With a growing legal market, San Diego enjoys the presence of many Am Law 100 firms as well as some smaller firms local to southern California.

Some of the largest law firms with offices in San Diego are:

  • Cooley – In 1992, Cooley became the first Silicon Valley law firm to open an office in San Diego, and it centers its practice there around the life sciences industry.
  • DLA Piper – Founded in San Diego in 1927, DLA has two local offices in addition to its vast global network. Its SD office represents some of the largest corporations in San Diego and focuses on high tech and life sciences.
  • Jones Day – Jones Day’s San Diego office centers its practice around pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices, renewable energy, telecommunications, software, and information technology.
  • Latham & Watkins – Another San Diego native, Latham brings its global platform to San Diego’s life sciences, technology, energy, and healthcare industries.
  • Morrison & Foerster – MoFo has a decidedly international focus. In its San Diego office, its attorneys advise ​​private and public companies in clean tech, electronics, entertainment and media, life sciences, medical technology, real estate, and venture and institutional investors.
  • Pillsbury – Many of the San Diego attorneys at Pillsbury have advanced degrees in the sciences. Its office works almost exclusively with the high tech and life sciences companies with offices on the San Diego coast.
  • Sheppard Mullin – Founded in LA in the 1920’s, Sheppard Mullin now has 16 offices in the U.S., two of which are in San Diego. The firm  both serves the tech industry and utilizes cutting-edge legal tech in its own practice. Sheppard Mullin is widely recognized for its litigation teams.

In addition to the biggest of the Biglaw firms, San Diego has many offices of small and midsize firms doing significant business in the market, including Barnes & Thornburg, Fish & Richardson, Foley & Lardner, Gunderson Dettmer, Jackson Lewis, Littler Mendelson, Paul Hastings, Perkins Coie, and Wilson Sonsini.

These and many other law firms dominate the San Diego legal market providing ample opportunities for legal minds who are desirous of getting placement or experience, it is also a suitable environment for seasoned lawyers to switch firms in order to gather more expertise and experience.

According to a 2021 national population survey of the American Bar Association, the legal market in California was ranked as having the second-highest number of lawyers in the United States of America with an estimated population of 167,709. For a young or seasoned attorney seeking placement in this huge market, it may be in your best interest to work with an accomplished legal recruiter who can use their knowledge of the San Diego legal market to find the best placement that suits your qualifications and interests. 

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Whether you’re just graduating law school or looking for a lateral move into a new firm, the job search can feel overwhelming. Finding the right full-time role comes with a lot of back-end work, and many lawyers don’t have the time to do this. Sourcing for legal professionals is the perfect middle ground for both law firms and those looking for open positions because the recruiters know the open roles and the top talent to help fill those roles. A legal recruitment firm has experience in human resources and the legal industry, so you can discuss with your recruiter which positions is best for you. Finding the right legal recruitment firm is key for getting your foot in the door as corporate counsel, in-house counsel, or as an associate. Look for someone who has a strong track record of placement with attorney recruiting and someone who can explain their recruiting process to you at the outset of working together.

Here are a few of the advantages that come from using a legal recruiter:

There are lots of benefits of working with a legal recruiter. Some of these benefits include:

  • Assistance in updating your resume
  • Acute perception of the legal market
  • Assistance in preparing for job interviews
  • Knowledge of job vacancies that you might never be aware of
  • Saving you time in your search for a job. 

The biggest benefits are often the time savings and learning about positions that might not be advertised other places like LinkedIn. Legal headhunters know what’s going on in the San Diego market and can help you learn quickly about open roles even if you’re coming from San Francisco, La Jolla, or somewhere else.

However, just like every other good thing, working with a legal recruiter also has its downsides

One of the major disadvantages of working with a legal recruiter in your search for a job is that your employer might be reluctant to give you a signing bonus. It might also affect your ability to negotiate your salary or even obtain some financial benefits. When the firm is already paying the recruiter a percentage of your salary as the recruiter’s fee, they might not be willing to pay you an additional chunk of money when you lateral.

Claire is currently living in another California city, and she’s ready for a change. She wants to move to San Diego for the slower pace of life and sunny weather. However, she doesn’t know the local legal market in San Diego very well, so she’s using a legal recruiter with years of experience and intimate knowledge of the regional firms in the area.

Associate who wants to change practice areas

Blake’s current firm has him pigeonholed into a practice area he doesn’t feel much passion about, so he’s looking to lateral to a firm with a robust technology law practice in San Diego. The legal recruiter he’s working with is helping him connect with partners growing their practice. Blake is able to learn about the major players in the new practice area more quickly with the help of his legal recruiter, who has decades of experience in San Diego.

An attorney who isn’t happy with their current firm

Rob is not happy with his current firm because it pushes associates too hard, placing too much pressure on billing a huge number of hours. As a third-year associate, he’s ready for a more lifestyle-oriented firm, but he knows relatively little about San Diego  law firms. To help him find a new firm without doing any legwork himself, Rob is working with a San Diego legal recruiter. 

I could list a few legal recruiters in San Diego that I’d recommend, but I’ve found over the years that the ideal candidate for you depends heavily on who you are. If you need more information on the best legal recruiters in San Diego, send me a message using the site’s chat button stating briefly that you’re on the lookout for a firm placement in San Diego. I’ll keep all your information confidential and get back to you quickly with some recommendations.

If you’re looking to explore lateral opportunities and the best legal recruiters in other states, we can connect you with legal recruiters throughout the United States.

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Joshua Holt

Joshua Holt is a lawyer with 10 years of experience in Biglaw working at the country’s largest law firms, culminating in his work at a Vault 30 law firm in the private equity mergers & acquisition group. He has extensive experience counseling associates in lateraling to a firm with a better fit, helping associates make partner and working with law students navigating on-campus and call-back interviews.

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