- Portland is a relatively small legal market, with just a handful of Biglaw firms established in the area.
- Portland’s attorneys tend to be older and part of a close-knit community where reputation matters a lot.
- Legal recruiters can help place lateral attorneys in the Pacific Northwest’s most prestigious law firms.
Known as the City of Roses, Portland can be a wonderful place to live and practice law for attorneys looking to get placed in the Pacific Northwest. About half of Oregon’s entire population resides within the Portland metropolitan area, so most of the state’s legal opportunities will be centered around Portland. Because the Portland legal market is smaller, insulated, and quirky, a legal recruiter may be helpful in finding a well-fitted career placement in Portland.
Around 5,500 attorneys practice in Multnomah County where Portland is located as reported by the American Bar Association. The Oregon State Bar states that approximately half of their 15,000+ members are engaged in the private practice of law. Oregon has three ABA-accredited law schools which are the University of Oregon, Lewis & Clark College, and Willamette University. Portland is Oregon’s largest city and one of the main metros in the Pacific Northwest. Portland’s population sits at ~650,000 which is a little bit smaller than Seattle, but its attorney population is only about one-third as large! Thus, Portland can be considered a smaller market for Biglaw. Like many small legal markets, Portland is also an insulated market, so any outsiders looking to place in Portland will have to overcome the challenge of breakings in.
There are some unique characteristics of the Portland market. First, geographically, Portland is situated between Seattle and Northern California along the west coast. This means that legal opportunities and legal work can be drawn out of Portland in both directions where large firms may keep a bigger presence near their biggest clients. Second, Portland’s bar demographics show that its attorney population tends to be older. The age imbalance could mean that younger attorneys will not only have an easier time attaining partnership as the old guard retires in due time, but also that we may start to see more job openings relative to the size of the job market.
Portland is emblematic of the Pacific Northwest lifestyle that some imagine. Portland is excellent for outdoor activities and nature and comes with milder weather for most of the year. The city is known for having one of the best street food scenes, breweries, coffee shops, and an excellent arts and culture scene. There is a neat hybrid of the denser city and day-to-day urban life while also giving residents the option to get out to the coast or forests. Portland does come with its downsides, as housing prices skyrocket, and homelessness remains a crisis. The culture of Portland is also close-knit, as neighborhoods drive a lot of relationships and activities. For lawyers, this gets added to the natural tendency of small legal markets where one’s reputation matters a lot, so lawyers will probably know other lawyers well.
Top law firms in Portland
Portland definitely has some need for Biglaw services but not a lot. There are large clients such as Nike’s headquarters and a massive portion of Intel’s workforce, but Portland is understandably one of the smaller markets where you’ll still regularly run into large law firms. Not uncommonly, a Seattle or Northern California office will try to handle matters that involve Portland clients. In any event, let’s look at some of the Biglaw options you’ll find in Portland.
Davis Wright Tremaine’s pre-merger firm of Ragen, Tremaine, Krieger served local Oregon clients since 1911. Today, there are over 80 attorneys in the Portland office that handle a broad range of legal matters and the firm is known as a Pacific Northwest powerhouse. Be aware though, that this Vault 100 firm does lag the market slightly with its compensation despite Portland’s cost of living being quite a bit higher than the national average.
Perkins Coie maintains over 60 attorneys out of Portland as part of a multi-national firm. The Portland office covers a wide variety of legal matters. Perkins Coie has strong Pacific Northwest origins and carries a reputable brand name anywhere you find Biglaw. The majority of associates in the Portland office practice corporate law or business litigation.
Holland & Knight is a multi-national law firm with a cozy team of ~25 attorneys in their Portland office. They handle mostly litigation work but cover other practice areas as well. The Portland office is one of Holland & Knight’s few offices that do not match the Cravath Scale for compensation.
K&L Gates’ Portland office has been around for more than 25 years now, servicing both regional and international clients alike for matters related to the Pacific Northwest. K&L Gates has a massive Seattle presence nearby, so the Portland office will be a little bit smaller and operate closely with the Seattle teams.
How to conduct a legal job search in Portland
Especially in a small, insular, and unique legal market like Portland, the kind of job search you are conducting will dictate the strategy you employ. Whether and how you use a legal recruiter will also depend on your needs and strategy. Legal professionals tend to make lateral moves in one of three ways:
- Same firm, different location
- Different firm, same location
- Different firm, different location
If you’re staying within the same firm but want to move to the Portland office, you’re probably already in Biglaw at a firm like Perkins Coie or K&L Gates. You’ll want to get a few things done before reaching out to your firm’s HR or legal recruiter. First, you’ll need to plan and communicate your transition so that it does not disrupt existing work or relationships. Will changing your city affect how you work with the partners you work for now? Will you even stay in the same practice group? You want to avoid a total upheaval when you look to switch offices, so be sure that you aren’t jeopardizing your career or billables when you transition. This will mostly be a conversation with partners in both offices rather than with HR.
When you’re already in Portland but want to move to a different firm, you definitely have an advantage by already having broken into the market—doubly so if you’ve also broken into Portland’s Biglaw firms. Because there are only a handful of Biglaw destinations you could lateral to, you may not need a legal recruiter if you can scope out opportunities and dip into your local professional network. Recruiters can be helpful though if you think that you aren’t connected well enough or if you just want to outsource some of the job search efforts for free. If you’re seeking a full-time position in the Portland area, a staffing agency can help connect you with open associate roles or an in-house position.
When you’re lateraling into Portland looking for a new firm, your work will be cut out for you. Because the legal market is small and favors those with ties to the area, you are inherently at a disadvantage as a job candidate. This is where a legal recruiter will be most helpful. The insights they have into the local market, the up-to-date news they receive on job openings, and the established professional network are all resources that you will want to access through a competent legal recruiter. Not only will you improve your chances of getting placed in the market, but you will also improve your chances of finding a good individual fit.
Examples of lawyers who work with legal recruiters in Portland
Associate moving to Portland from a different legal market
Melissa has no ties to Portland but wants to move there because her fiancé recently got a job at Nike. She understands that Portland has a smaller and more insulated market than another Pacific Northwest city like Seattle and decides that a legal recruiter could be the inside connection she needs in order to break in. If you’re concerned about the kind of support you’ll get at a law firm, including benefits like healthcare or how many paralegals you’ll have access to, make sure to share these concerns with your recruiter in advance.
In the legal industry, there are no shortage of jobs, but if you’re moving to the area from a different legal community, you might need someone ton help you get grounded with your legal search in Portland. Headhunters know the local landscape for general counsel, in-house counsel, and associate attorney positions for various practice areas, so leverage their experience and knowledge.
Mid-level associate that wants to lateral up to a higher ranked firm
Timothy works for a mid-sized firm in Portland but wants to advance his career by lateraling into Biglaw. Timothy has networked a little with attorneys from large firms like Perkins Coie or Davis Wright Tremaine, but he still feels as if there’s more insider information available that can help him land a Biglaw position. Timothy calls a legal recruiter to boost his chances at recognizing and capitalizing on the job opportunity when it arises. Plus, it comes at no cost to him! If you have years of experience, a search firm may be able to help you make the most of that in the legal community in Portland.
Senior associate seeking immediate partnership
Meg is a senior associate at a firm and has started to develop a book of business. Her current firm is very top heavy with older partners, but none of them seem to plan on retiring in the next 3-5 years. Meg doesn’t want to wait those years out. In order to speed up the process of making partner, Meg reaches out to a legal recruiter because she knows that the right firm, perhaps a bigger one, could make her partner as part of the lateral move.
If you need more information on the best legal recruiters in Portland, send me a message using the site’s chat button stating briefly that you’re on the lookout for a firm placement in Portland. I’ll keep all your information confidential and get back to you quickly with some recommendations.
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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.