The San Francisco Bay Area is an epicenter of industry, home to businesses and technologies that shape contemporary culture. Yet as the corporate titans of San Francisco and Silicon Valley attract endless attention, a related sector is also thriving: opportunities in the legal field abound across the Bay.
In 2018, the San Francisco metropolitan area included over 25,000 legal jobs. Slightly south, the San Jose metropolitan area was home to 8,560 legal jobs – a figure 10% higher than the year prior.
A large percentage of these opportunities are aligned with the region’s emphasis on technological innovation. Major areas of practice include intellectual property, corporate and private equity, as well as privacy and cybersecurity. For lawyers and other legal professionals who are drawn to dynamic and evolving subject matter, the Bay Area is unlikely to disappoint.
Furthermore, the local legal industry offers exceedingly high salaries. By some measures, the metro areas of San Jose and San Francisco are the two most lucrative places in the country to be a lawyer, with average annual salaries nearing $200,000. Although the area’s high cost of living can consume much of those salaries, lawyers around the Bay typically enjoy a nice living.
Before you pack your bags for the Bay Area, however, you should know that the local legal landscape can be quite challenging. Lawyers practicing in other states may need to brave the notoriously difficult California bar exam. Moreover, the state is home to many of the country’s most illustrious law schools, some of which have deep ties to the nation’s largest law firms. Expect fierce competition for attractive opportunities, even if you have considerable credentials and experience.
On the other hand, don’t let these potential challenges dissuade you from planning a Bay Area legal career. In this article, we’ll help you evaluate and identify opportunities in the Bay Area legal community, depending on your intended field of practice. We’ll also give you some solid advice for getting ahead of the competition in the application process.
Big, Boutique or In-House: The Bay Area’s Legal Landscape
The Bay Area offers a variety of legal firms and organizations to work for, perhaps to a greater extent than other major cities. Here are a few tracks to consider as you weigh a move to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Big Firm Legal Jobs
Some of the nation’s most wealthy and powerful firms maintain Bay Area offices, either as a central headquarters or as key outposts. Of the top 100 U.S. firms based on total revenue in 2018, six were based in Northern California, and three posted more than $1 billion in earnings.
These “BigLaw” firms employ dozens or hundreds of lawyers, boast impressive client rosters, and offer a wide array of specializations and services. Moreover, many of them are surprisingly attractive places to work, aiming to shake the industry’s reputation for soul-crushing hours and staid internal cultures. For example, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP and Cooley LLP are widely regarded as some of the Bay Area’s best employers.
Boutique Firm Legal Jobs
If you’re looking for a more intimate, collaborative setting that a large firm can’t quite offer, the Bay Area also has its fair share of esteemed “boutique” firms. Frequently, these smaller firms specialize in one or several sectors, catering to high-powered startups that appreciate their scale and expertise.
If you’re looking to avoid the bustle of San Francisco and stick to the Bay Area’s more tranquil locales, a boutique firm could be your best option. There are several esteemed small and mid-sized firms around Napa, for example, that could provide plenty of opportunity at a good distance from the city.
In-House Counsel Jobs
Given all the companies that call the Bay Area home, it’s no surprise that the region offers many in-house counsel roles. If you’re growing tired of the grind to produce billable hours at your current firm, working inside of a single company can sound mighty appealing.
Unfortunately, competition for these jobs can be especially fierce, and in-house work typically requires significant prior experience. If you haven’t paid your dues already, you may need to cut your teeth at a prestigious firm first, gaining the breadth of experience necessary to serve a company’s wide-ranging needs.
Thanks to the influence of Silicon Valley, the Bay Area is a hotbed for startups hoping to revolutionize various aspects of the legal industry. In recent years, the prestigious startup accelerator, Y Combinator, has accepted a striking number of nascent companies focused on the legal field. Additionally, so-called “legal-tech” startups are attracting serious funding from Silicon Valley’s most acclaimed venture capital firms such as Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz.
If you have a legal background but hope to work in a dynamic startup setting, joining one of these rapidly growing companies could be the ideal opportunity. You may not practice law per se, but your experience will certainly remain relevant during this stage of your career.
How to Find Legal Jobs in the Bay Area
While the Bay Area doesn’t lack legal opportunities, finding them is crucial. From networking successfully to searching comprehensively, here are the best ways to find the ideal position.
Make the Most of Industry Events
The legal profession offers lots of chances to rub elbows with colleagues, from social gatherings to conferences and informal happy hours. These events can be an essential way to forge connections, learn about new opportunities, and gain a favorable reputation across the Bay Area. The key is utilizing them as they’re intended, even if you’re not an extrovert by nature. Make conversation with new contacts, hand out your card, and follow up with an email the next day to cement your new connection.
Utilize Your Alumni Network and Resources
It’s hard to overstate the importance of alumni connections, particularly when competing for positions at top-ranked firms in competitive settings like the Bay Area. This is true even if you’re not a graduate of a top-tier local program, such as Stanford or Berkeley. With a little research on LinkedIn or the firm’s website, you might just discover you have an edge with a partner — or at least an associate whose brain you can pick.
Moreover, you don’t need to do this networking alone. Your law school’s career office can be a great place to seek advice, encouragement, and alumni connections, even if you graduated years ago. After all, this assistance is part of what you paid for.
Build Your Digital Brand
Legal professionals should never neglect their LinkedIn profiles, which can make a powerful impression on clients, colleagues, and prospective employers. In the Bay Area’s tech-savvy scene, an attractive digital presence can be especially important.
At the very least, make sure your profile is complete and includes a professional photo. To go one step further, try posting original content that demonstrates your expertise or engage actively with other attorneys on the platform. Doing so can attract the attention of recruiters and hiring partners — and cast you in a favorable light if prospective employers do search for your profile.
Use a Superior Site to Search
In any given month, the Bay Area has a robust number of job openings for attorneys and legal staffers. This hiring activity is both a blessing and a challenge. You’ll need to stay on top of new opportunities as they appear, and sort the few you want from the many that aren’t suitable.
Some job sites make this process difficult, maintaining old listings for months and inundating users with irrelevant openings. At Joblist, we strive to provide a better, more efficient job search experience by using artificial intelligence, advanced matching tools, and always putting the jobseeker first. To see our advantage for yourself, check out our legal job listings in the Bay Area.
Legal Jobs in the Bay Area: How to Get the Offer
Once you’ve identified the perfect Bay Area position, you’ll want every possible advantage during the application process. If you’re a law student, practicing attorney, or legal professional, you’re probably no stranger to rigorous interviewing. With these tips, however, you’ll present yourself as particularly capable and polished candidate who stands out in the Bay Area’s extensive talent pool.
Familiarize Yourself with the Firm’s Portfolio
Firms in the Bay Area strive to cultivate reputations for excellence in particular practice areas, some of which are distinctive and complex. To convey your capacity to contribute to their business, you’ll need to understand what they do in some detail. Additionally, you’ll need to understand how your expertise will resonate with their practice specialties, and frame your experience accordingly.
In an interview setting, don’t be surprised by pointed questions about what you know about the firm and why you want to work there. If you can only cite the firm’s prestige or pay packages, you probably won’t impress. Additionally, come up with some smart and specific inquiries of your own in advance. When they ask if you have any questions, quiz your interviewer about subjects that show you did your research, such as the firm’s pro bono program.
Show Personality and Flexibility
Bay Area law firms see lots of smart candidates. Your resume alone will probably attest to your intelligence and academic achievements. In interviews and other written correspondence, however, you have an opportunity to demonstrate some degree of personality. You can let your interviewer know that you’ll be a valued colleague — not just a competent automaton. Talk about your passions in personal terms, and steer clear of inauthentic buzzwords.
In a similar vein, it’s wise to be humble and flexible about your opportunity to gain new skills. Any new firm will entail a learning curve, with new clients, processes, and internal dynamics. Convey that you’re responsive to feedback rather than rigid and you’ll seem far more likely to fit in.
Emphasize Particular Skills and Subject Matter
The entire legal industry is undergoing rapid change, as new technologies alter the skill sets on which attorneys rely. Competent lawyers must now familiarize themselves with digital tools and technical subjects and statutes. Given the Bay Area’s high-tech profile, these trends are especially relevant for lawyers in the area.
During the interview process, make an effort to show off your technical knowledge and abilities, especially as they pertain to the firm’s current client roster. If you’re familiar with new file-sharing platforms used in the discovery process, for example, you might save the hiring partner a huge amount of training time.
Consider Transition Timing
Unfortunately, certain industry-wide conventions regarding legal career trajectories do hold true in the Bay Area. As we mentioned earlier, in-house counsel jobs are rarely available to new law school grads. Put in at least a couple of years at a well-regarded firm, however, and your options will certainly expand.
By the same token, if an in-house gig is your ultimate goal, don’t wait too long to make the leap. There are generally fewer job openings geared toward lawyers with six or more years of experience at large law firms. At that stage, you may face the assumption that you’re a law firm lifer, and struggle to find comparable compensation at an in-house position. As you plan your move to the Bay Area, therefore, consider the larger arc of your career, not just immediate opportunities.
Practicing in Paradise: Building Your Bay Area Career
As lawyers know particularly well, most things worth having require some work. Your legal career in the Bay Area will certainly be no exception, demanding a strategic approach and considerable effort.
But you probably didn’t enter the field with intentions to take it easy, and the Bay Area is home to singular opportunities. With the guidance in this article and a good deal of persistence, your move to the Bay could take you to new professional heights.
At Joblist, we’d be honored to help you make the leap, with accurate and continuously updated job offerings. Our tools let you stay on top of legal openings across the Bay Area, so you’ll never need to worry about missing professional possibilities.