- Significant businesses and law firms from across the country have offices in DC in hopes of luring the nation’s top legal talent.
- Regulatory work, business transactions, and complex litigation are all areas with great potential in D.C., and nearly every industry does business there.
- The D.C. market is complex and sophisticated because of the presence of prestigious law schools and firms, so a legal recruiter’s expertise can be helpful for lateral attorneys.
The District of Columbia may be a small city, but it has a lot of flavors. It hosts 177 foreign embassies, is a national center for the arts, and has teams in all four major-league sports. According to the 2020 Census, it has a population of 689,545, which makes it the 20th-largest city in the U.S. While government work employs about 25% of the workforce, education, finance, public policy, and scientific research are significant non-government industries in the District.
The D.C. metropolitan area has a strong biotechnology market, and many large biotech companies have a presence in the District. Tons of professional organizations, trade unions, nonprofit organizations, and lobbying groups have their headquarters in the District of Columbia so they can be close to the federal government.
The District of Columbia is a legal hub for corporate attorneys as well as those working in criminal and civil litigation. D.C. has a robust and wide-ranging legal market. According to the most recent data from the American Bar Association, there are over 27,743 lawyers in D.C. The capital is abuzz with law firms that provide litigation for IT-related issues. There are also law firms that offer specialized litigation for intellectual property, complex regulatory matters, labor & employment, and just about any other specialty you can imagine. The D.C. Bar offers several practice area-specific Communities to support attorneys working in specific areas of the law.
Coming in at $192,530, the District of Columbia boasts one of the highest average lawyer salaries (per state) in the country. The median lawyer salary in D.C., $162,210, is higher than any other state, including New York and California. The strong presence of Biglaw firms paying on the Biglaw salary scale has bumped up the payscale for many D.C. attorneys.
The District of Columbia hosts several of the nation’s top law schools, including American University Washington College of Law, George Washington University Law School, and Georgetown University Law Center. Consistently ranked on the T14 list, Georgetown has leading programs in constitutional and international law, along with a high proportion of graduates who work at top law firms. Attorneys looking to lateral from other markets will compete against Georgetown alumni for Biglaw positions.
Top law firms have offices in the District of Columbia
Many, many law firms have offices in the District of Columbia. Because D.C.’s economy is so heavily tied to the federal government, it has been rendered nearly recession-proof and continues to thrive even during economic downturns. If you’re in the market for a new job in Washington, D.C., a recruiting firm can reduce the work you need to do and help you find the perfect fit. This can cut down time on your legal search when a headhunter gets involved early on. Whether you’re looking to level up in the legal industry or make lateral moves, many legal positions are available in the D.C. area. A headhunter can help you get your foot in the door with the perfect location.
Most of the Am Law 100 firms have a D.C. office, and there are also several D.C.-headquartered firms with a large presence. As one of the top cities for the legal profession, national and global law firms employ thousands of attorneys in the District of Columbia area. Here are some of the top firms that hire you after you work with a legal recruiter in D.C.:
- Covington & Burlington: Headquartered in D.C., Covington employs 761 of its total 1,300 lawyers in its main office. In its corporate, litigation, and regulatory practices, Covington has a global reach focused on the intersection of law and policy.
- Hogan Lovells: The 10th largest law firm in the U.S., Hogan Lovells focuses on using tech innovations to solve problems at the intersection of business and government.
- Arnold & Porter: Arnold & Porter has a strong regulatory practice and hires many attorneys with prior government service. They currently employ about 450 attorneys in the D.C. area.
- Latham & Watkins: A “one-firm firm” with no headquarters, Latham’s D.C. presence focuses on regulatory work, corporate transactions, and appellate litigation. Their D.C. office staffs 377 attorneys, while they employ over 3,000 globally.
Legal staffing agencies and recruiters all vary in their approaches, but have the same underlying goal of placing you in a good fit. This is why it’s so important that you consider this as a law student, new associate, or even managing partner if you’re looking for a change in your career. The right recruiting team will do more than scan job postings; they’ll also help polish your resume then reach out to all their contacts in the legal community.
How to conduct a legal job search in the District of Columbia
The legal market in the District of Columbia is huge and includes many highly specialized areas of practice. It’s also home to many prestigious law schools and firms, so lateral candidates may benefit from the specialized knowledge that a legal recruiter can offer as they navigate the hiring process. Legal professionals usually lateral in one of the following ways:
- Staying within the same firm, but moving locations
- Lateraling from Firm X to Firm Y, staying in the same city
- Lateraling from Firm X to Firm Y AND moving locations
If you’re staying within the same firm but want to switch to the D.C. office, you want to hold off on starting your conversation with HR or recruiting before you’ve taken some key steps.
Legal departments are usually leanly staffed, and partners rely on the associates under them to make their practice run. If you want to switch offices, you’ll need to work out the details on how your transition can happen smoothly without disrupting the lives of the partners you work for. Can the transition happen slowly? Is inter-office staffing typical at your firm?
Will you need to start working with a different group? This can be a sensitive issue at Am Law 100 firms, so test the waters before you dive in. Once you’ve discussed it with your partners (both current and future), discussing the details with human resources is probably the last step.
If you’re lateraling from Firm X to Firm Y but staying in the D.C. metro area, your legal job search is likely going to focus on connections you’ve made through networking, people at other firms you know in the city, and recruiters who know about open positions that might not be publicly listed. A legal recruiter will likely have insights about what’s happening at other firms, though it will benefit you to do your research through your personal network.
If you’re lateraling from Firm X to Firm Y and moving to D.C., it will be very helpful to use a legal recruiter to learn about the legal market, open positions, and the practice groups at various firms that are growing and likely to have openings in the near future. A legal recruiting professional will likely be indispensable for landing a position that is a good fit when you’ve moving into a new market.
Examples of lawyers who work with legal recruiters in the District of Columbia
Mid-level associate who wants to lateral up to a higher ranked firm
Rachel is a 4th year associate at an AmLaw 150 firm. She has gained valuable experience at her firm, but she wants to push herself to move to a more prestigious firm before she commits to trying for partnership at her current firm. A legal recruiter is helping Rachel find a position at an Am Law 50 firm in D.C. where she can do more complex legal work as an associate.
Senior associate seeking immediate partnership
Miranda is a senior associate at her firm and is starting to realize that she might not get elected to the partnership for various reasons. She is a capable attorney and has developed good management skills, so Miranda is using a legal recruiter to help her find a firm willing to make her a partner immediately.
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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.