South Florida: A Destination For Associates To Call Home

South Florida has always been known as a destination for retirees and people who want a more laidback lifestyle. Even 13 years ago when I moved here, Miami felt like a second-rate city (especially in comparison to the cosmopolitan, world-class feel that the greater downtown Miami area possesses today). But over the past decade, law firms and businesses have been setting up shop throughout South Florida, with many organizations headquartering their Latin America operations here. 

Today, cities such as Miami and Ft. Lauderdale are attracting younger professionals from all over the country who have been looking for a better work/life balance and quality of life overall. If you are an associate attorney thinking about relocating, South Florida presents a multitude of opportunities for those looking to put down roots. 

The Law Firm Scene

Though many of the law firms in South Florida have been here for decades, over the past 10 years, many Am Law firms have decided to penetrate this market and open offices. Currently, South Florida is home to 39 Am Law 200 firms and counting. The ever-increasing investment into the area has led to a number of these firms adding a lot of top quality talent to their ranks, including a good number of associates who have relocated from other markets. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the market has grown by more than 4,700 lawyers over the past decade — that’s a growth of more than 30 percent, three times faster than the rest of the job market.

What Firms Are Looking For

Many come here lured by the beaches, perceived relaxed lifestyle and lack of state income tax, but those that find the most success in the area are associates who have a tie to the area and a plan to make a home in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and the surrounding cities. 

Considering the cost of hiring and training an attorney, law firms are most interested in those attorneys who are committed to making a career for themselves in the area and dedicating their career to this business community. There is a strong value on community, and in South Florida, you have to not only be relationship-focused but also work smart. 

The market is in rapid growth mode, so standing out is key. Firms typically want associates with three to six years of experience, top academic credentials and training from firms in the most sophisticated markets. However, being successful in another city does not always guarantee success here. Those from the East Coast tend to acclimate better than those from the West. As do those practicing in the most in demand areas: 

  • General corporate (especially Mergers & Acquisitions and Private Equity) 
  • General commercial litigation 
  • International arbitration and dispute resolution 
  • International tax 
  • Commercial real estate 
  • Land use 
  • Insurance (mostly defense and coverage) 
  • Labor and employment   

What Is Required to Practice 

If you are ready for the move and the commitment to the market, be aware that Florida does not offer reciprocity between other jurisdictions. Anyone who intends to practice law in the state must pass the Florida Bar. In order to sit for the Florida Bar exam, you must have graduated from a U.S.-accredited law school, which means foreign applicants will need more than an LL.M. 

This is often a huge shock to international associate attorneys who practice law in New York for a top-tier firm and possess an LL.M from a U.S.-accredited law school. Many, especially those from Latin America, think that the obvious next step in their career is relocation to Miami. This is just not possible even though Miami is becoming more and more of a hotbed for foreign investment.

While the Florida Bar is required, most firms are open to hiring candidates who are willing to sit for next Florida Bar exam — and willing to support them taking the time off to study for and take the exam. Many firms will also provide ample relocation packages to help cover moving expenses. 

Life in South Florida

South Florida is growing at rapid speeds, and Miami, in particular, is a city on the rise. Today, “Brickell” alone boasts Mary Brickell Village, which is filled with exclusive, high-end retail and restaurants. While Brickell City Center, a five-million square foot complex, spans more than five city blocks and contains high-end shops (Saks Fifth Avenue is their anchor store), office towers and a five-star hotel. Luxury high rise condominiums are continuously being built as more young professionals and foreign investors turn toward Miami as a place to live and/or invest. 

The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and Frost Museum of Science are two great cultural additions to the “downtown” area of Miami’s business district. The annual Art Basel Festival, Miami Food & Wine Festival, and Miami Boat Show are just a few examples of the excellent cultural offerings that the city possesses. 

People are more attracted to South Florida for the temperate climates and lower cost of living than other major East Coast cities. 

Working with a Recruiter

Teaming up with a tenacious, relationship-focused legal recruiter is the best move an associate can make before relocating to any city. A recruiter who has lived and worked in a particular market for a long time and has the backing of a strong, progressive recruitment firm will be able to provide guidance that is tailored to your goals and experiences. They will know the ins and outs of the local law firms and have access to both local and national information. They will also be able to guide you through every step of the process from applying to the firm and setting up interviews to negotiating a relocation package.  

It is an exciting time to be in Miami. People are flocking here in droves from all corners of the world. Anyone who relocates here (including myself) and stays here really learns to love and appreciate this city. The best talent is in demand to help make this area one of the very best business centers in our country. If Miami is on your mind, reach out to a reputable legal recruiter. Together, we can help raise this city to its full potential. 


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