Practicing in the Baltimore/DC metro area sounds exciting. After all, DC is the capital of the most powerful nation in the world. If you are aiming to work as a lawyer here, however, you need to know in advance what to expect.
To say that DC is lawyer-dense is an understatement. It is home to nearly 10 times as many lawyers per capita as New York City, a city known for its multitude of lawyers.
Competition Is Intense
According to Salary.com, the average salary of a DC lawyer is $189,610. However, this figure could be misleading. After all, it fails to take into account years of experience and the difficulty in landing a job. The problem is that a diploma from an elite law school is about as common as gift wrap here. Even if you graduated with honors, your resume might get lost in a pile of others.
DC is relatively small compared to NYC. Nevertheless, working in DC is profoundly appealing to many well-qualified people. As a consequence, the DC legal market is perhaps the most exclusive legal market in the country. If you want to work in the DC metro area, you might need to search for employment in a less-competitive sector such as ERISA law. Carefully research supply/demand ratios in various sectors because they change constantly.
You Will Probably End Up Practicing Administrative Law
If your goal is to become a corporate lawyer, DC is not the place for you, and neither is Baltimore. Go to New York instead. But if administrative law is where it’s at for you, keep in mind that DC is home to just about every major federal regulatory body in the United States.
That includes the SEC, the DOJ, the FDA, the FTC, the EPA, the FCC, and a lot of other regulatory agencies so famous that you recognize them by their initials alone.
Be Prepared To Specialize
No legal market takes legal specialization to the extremes that the Baltimore/DC metro market does. Federal regulations are often downright Byzantine, and it takes a specialist to guide clients through them.
Do you plan on spending your career here, or will you move away someday? If you plan on leaving, your extremely specialized legal background could limit or enhance your job prospects. A specialized background in transportation regulation might lead to wonderful exit opportunities in New York City or even Los Angeles. It probably won’t work in North Platte, Nebraska.
If You Stay Long, You Will Probably Work for the Federal Government at Some Point
It is certainly possible to work for a private law firm in DC (probably one that depends heavily on government work). Nevertheless, you’re likely to end up working directly for the federal government at some point.
Working for the government offers advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, there is less pressure and more job security. On the downside, there is no way that the federal government is going to pay you a Big Law salary. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for an experienced government attorney fails to top $100,000 per year. Even the top 10% earn an average of less than $150,000 per year.
In-House Opportunities Are Hard To Find
Unfortunately, if that’s what you want, DC is not the place to be. The entire metro area has fewer companies that hire lawyers than most other legal markets. Even smaller legal markets often have larger markets for in-house lawyers than DC has.
If you do manage to locate an in-house position here, the odds are it will pay less than an equivalent position elsewhere. Of course, if you are seeking an in-house position in the first place, you’re probably willing to sacrifice a certain amount of money in exchange for a better work-life balance.