I always knew that someday I would leave Wisconsin. My husband’s work demanded it. But when that day came, I found myself completely overwhelmed by the job search/joining a new bar process even though I had spent months preparing for the move.
Now that I have settled into my new job/home/life and have had time to reflect on the experience, I’ve put together the following list of the top ten things that helped me smoothly transition to a new state:
1. Keep your employer in the loop. My colleagues in Wisconsin knew when they hired me that I would not be there forever. I had given them a rough idea of my timeline when I was hired, and then updated them once I knew the exact date of my departure. This allowed us to work out reasonable timelines for wrapping up projects and shifting workloads. My openness and honesty about my plans to move was appreciated, and it showed when I later relied on my former employer as a reference.
2. Have a realistic job search timeline. I knew the legal job market was tough, but I was optimistic that being a few years out of school meant that I would have an advantage over other applicants who had less real world experience. I started looking for a position in my future home as soon as I knew where we were moving, bringing my total search time to nine months. I’ve talked to a few other people in similar situations who agreed that 9 months to a year is realistic, and may even be optimistic.
3. Find something productive to do to occupy your spare time. Putting out quality job applications takes a substantial amount of time, but you are still going to have free time during the day when the rest of the world is busy working. A lot of this time should be filled with networking and knowledge-building (more on these below), but you should also have another outlet for your productive energy. Doing volunteer work or working a part-time job can help you maintain your sense of self-worth when you are stressed out about not yet hearing back about the dream job you applied for.
4. Network. This should be an obvious point, so I’m going to go more into tactics that worked for me:
A lot of advice in this area says start with people you know and work your way out from there, but it is far more important to figure out who you know that knows what you know, and is willing to speak to your knowledge. Reading this article on mentorship v. sponsorship is a good place to get started thinking about and implementing this concept.
Applying to jobs can probably wait until you actually move (I didn’t get a single response to my applications until I had an address and phone number in the area listed on my application materials), but networking can’t. As soon as you know where you are moving, start reaching out to people in the new area.
Switch over your membership in groups you belong to that have chapters in your new location as quickly as possible. This applies to social and special interest groups as well as professional associations. I made more valuable connections through P.E.O. and the Daughters of the American Revolution than I did through the bar association in the first few months after my move.
Don’t think you are going to be able to rely on your law school’s career services office or alumni groups. These resources are geared towards new graduates.
Go on informational interviews with the goal of gaining information. You are going to have a lot of questions about practicing law and living in your new home, so figure out the best people to ask these questions and set up an informational interview with them. Keep in mind that informational interviews are not job interviews! It is a waste of both your time and the person you are meeting with’s time if you expect more out of the meeting than answers to your questions.
5. Get your social media house in order. As you are applying for jobs, setting up informational interviews, and networking, people are going to be googling you. Make it easy for them to find good information by updating your social media accounts to include information that shows what you are an expert in and tells people you are job searching.
6. Keep your Wisconsin law license. Just because you aren’t practicing in the state, doesn’t mean your Wisconsin law license is no longer useful. Keep yourself in good standing at least until you have secured a new job. Make sure you update your contact information in the judiciary’s eCourts system.
7. Stay up to date on the latest trends and new information in your practice area. If you don’t keep up with your practice area while you are not practicing you are going to have a lot of catching up to do when you return to work. Beyond subscribing to relevant publications, I followed industry leaders on Twitter and LinkedIn, and set up Google Alerts on keywords related to my practice area. The Google Alerts were really helpful in leading me to organizations and people in my new state that are experts in my area that I was not familiar with.
8. The bar exam. One of the big things you will need to do is figure out if and when you need to take your new state’s bar exam. Each year, the National Conference of Bar Examiners publishes a guide to bar admission requirements with all the information you need to figure out if you have to take an exam to be licensed in your new state. Spoiler alert: As a young attorney, you are going to have to take an exam.
9. Pack wisely. Make sure you know where your interview suit is packed! The time before an interview should be spent preparing your materials and doing research, not opening random boxes of clothes looking for your favorite suit.
10. Rely on your support network. Moving and job searching are both stressful events. Doing them at the same time is really overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to lean on your family and friends for support.
I hope this information is helpful to those of you who are making a move. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about thing things on my list, or if you are moving to New Jersey!
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 edition of “Fresh Perspectives,” the newsletter of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Young Lawyers Division.