I speak with attorneys quite frequently that are looking to make the move to California (especially during the harsh winter months). What always astounds me is how many people do not realize the importance of taking the California Bar. Let me make this clear – do not underestimate the importance of membership to the California Bar! No matter your practice area, firms want to see that you are at least in the process of registering for the examination. This speaks to the commitment of your re-location.
Firms recognize the amount of effort it takes to become a member of the California Bar. It is arguably the most difficult state Bar exam and there is no waiver for out of state lawyers. The passage rate for the July 2013 California Bar exam was 54.9% and the February 2013 Bar was at 41.9% (traditionally, the February Bar has a lower success rate).
With respect to your job search, you certainly have the best chances at securing an interview and a position if you are a member of the Bar. However, the Bar is of varying importance depending on your practice area. I have placed several transactional attorneys, for example, that were not barred in California, but had planned to take the next upcoming examination. Should you receive an offer, a firm may pay for related Bar expenses. (However, I do not recommend waiting on the Bar until you have an offer!)
For litigators, not being a member of the California Bar is a much larger hurdle. Often recruitment coordinators will not glance at a litigation resume for a present position if the candidate does not already have the Bar, even if this person is from a top #10 law school and has outstanding experience.
However, no matter your practice, if you decide to make a move to California and are not presently a member of the Bar, you should still start investigating openings. Even if you decide to hold on submitting your materials, it’s good for you to get an idea for the market, which firms are looking, and what credentials they seek. This will give you a tremendous advantage for when you do decide to move forward with your applications.
Another factor to consider is that, unless there is an imminent need, firms are taking a longer time at the interview stage. It’s not out of the ordinary for the process to last several months. If you have taken the Bar but have not received your results, or your scheduled exam is less than a month away, it may be a good idea to submit for positions anyhow (even if you are a litigator). It’s better to get your materials in front of a desired firm when you have the chance, rather than gambling that the firm may have another open position after you obtain your results. Then, when you receive your results (and they’re positive), make sure to contact the hiring coordinator at the firm (or your recruiter) to give them the good news!