Best Cities for young attorneys

Jonathan Tabacoff could have lived anywhere. But like a lot of people who grew up watching “Schoolhouse Rock!,” the 2014 graduate of Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, chose Washington, D.C.

“This is where everything is; everyone has a headquarters here,” the 26-year-old said. “It is very intellectual here. Even the kids on the bus are discussing the election.”

A New York City native, he moved to the nation’s capital to attend law school without ever having visited the city. He knew his dream of working for the federal government meant he would one day call D.C. home.

“I drive by the monuments every day. Still, four years later, I feel like a kid when I see them,” he said.

Now, he is in his second and final year of the Presidential Management Fellows Program of the Social Security Administration, which will lead to a full-time job.

“It’s everything I have ever wanted to do after law school,” Tabacoff said. “D.C. is a place where everyone has their head on a swivel, which can be good and bad. It’s great for young attorneys, because it means there are that many more opportunities, with spots opening all the time.”

Tabacoff is not alone in his affinity for our nation’s capital. Attorneys make up 8 percent of Washington, D.C.’s population, according to the American Bar Association. That means that about one out of every 12 people walking by you on the National Mall practices law.

“There are abundant opportunities on Capitol Hill, with the federal and local governments, law firms, associations, nonprofits, legal services providers, as well as the judiciary,” said Jill Frost, director of career and professional development at CUA Law. “Given the vibrant D.C. legal community, students build tremendous professional networks that serve them well throughout their careers.”

Pair that with a rich history and culture, an average salary of $149,977 at law firms – the third highest in the nation for entry-level attorneys – and a high percentage of young people – 20.7 percent of D.C. residents are between the ages of 24 and 34 – and it is no wonder Washington, D.C., is such a great destination for budding lawyers.

Indeed, it finished first in The National Jurist’s ranking of best major cities in the U.S. for young attorneys. We looked at three primary areas, each with two data points, to determine the best cities for young attorneys.

First, we looked at standard of living, using mean salary data for law firms and cost of living adjustment. These two factors totaled 30 percent of the study.

Then, we looked at the size of the legal community. The percentage of the population with legal occupations, according to U.S. Census data, counted for 15 percent, while the number of law firms in each metropolitan area counted for 20 percent.

Finally, we assessed the social scene using two data points. The percentage of young people ages 24 to 34 (according to the U.S. Census) counted for 15 percent of the overall ranking. The cities’ arts and cultural environments, based on rankings by Sperling’s Best Places, counted for 20 percent of the total score.

Following Washington, D.C. in The National Jurist rankings were Dallas, Boston, Seattle and Denver.

Dallas placed second, largely based on strong entry-level salaries and a low cost of living. Janet Landry, an associate at Carter Scholer Arnett Hamada & Mockler, chose Dallas over other cities in Texas for that exact reason.

“My fiancé and I tell people that one of the things that drew us to Dallas was the low cost of living,” said Landry, a 2015 graduate of Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas. “Lower cost of living does not just mean you can save money as a young lawyer, it also means you can live closer to your office, the courthouses downtown, and all the great events Dallas has to offer.”

The National Jurist used law firm mean salary data from the National Association for Law Placement’s report on the Class of 2014. It then adjusted the salaries using cost-of-living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research.

When adjusted for cost of living, Dallas has the third highest salaries in the nation, following Houston and Palo Alto, Calif.

Dallas is also expanding its business sector, said Karen Sargent, assistant dean and executive director of the Office of Career Services at SMU Dedman School of Law. This means more legal opportunities of every kind. 

Read the rest of the story in the free Winter digital issue of the National Jurist Magazine here.