A Guide to Understanding When Practicing Attorneys Can and Cannot Relocate to Different Markets

The Laws of Supply and Demand Control Most Lateral Movements from Outside Regions

Ultimately, the movements of attorneys between markets are governed by the fundamental laws of supply and demand. These economic principles dictate the availability of opportunities and the feasibility of such transitions. In markets where there is a high demand for attorneys with specific skills or expertise but a low supply, law firms are more inclined to overlook the risks and costs associated with hiring from outside their market. Conversely, in markets saturated with legal professionals, firms have little incentive to look beyond their local talent pool, thereby constraining opportunities for attorneys seeking to move into these areas.

Understanding the dynamics of supply and demand in the legal profession is crucial for both law firms and attorneys. It guides firms in their strategic hiring decisions and helps attorneys identify where their skills might be most valued and where opportunities for successful lateral moves are most likely. This economic interplay forms the backdrop against which all movements in the legal job market occur, shaping the landscape of legal employment across different regions and specializations. 
The laws of supply and demand are generally controlled by:
1. Many Law Firms Are Risk Averse in Hiring Attorneys from Other Markets Due to the Costs of Bringing in an Attorney from Another Market
It's important to understand that hiring attorneys from out of state or out of the market also comes with a certain amount of risk from a cost standpoint. If the attorney does not work out, the law firm will have an expense associated with hiring the attorney that they would not have if they hired locally or in-state. Law firms may need to pay for relocation expenses, for example. Additionally, law firms may have to pay for bar review classes and study time for the bar. Law firms also risk that the attorney may not pass the bar. Finally, law firms have the risk that the attorney hired may have issues that lead them to leave their last law firm.
A law firm that hires someone from another market takes a substantial risk that they would not necessarily have if they hired someone locally. Law firms have a considerable risk when hiring attorneys from other markets. For example, sometimes attorneys are moving because they may not be doing good work in their present law firm and have been asked to leave or have a runway to do so where they also will have access to voicemail and be on the website for a certain length of time. Therefore, a law firm may unwittingly hire someone else's liability. Additionally, there are cases where law firms hire someone with a substance abuse or other issue that they may be "running from." Some people with an addiction may believe that relocating to another market may help them stop a given substance abuse issue, but it often only ends up exacerbating this.
Often, attorneys may be leaving, or asked to leave, their new firms due to issues with consistent working hours or billing hours that need to be clarified. These mistakes can hurt law firms and make them lose money with lateral hires from other markets.
Another concern, of course, is that when an attorney relocates from a larger market to a less desirable, less cosmopolitan one without sufficient justification, they will leave when they can. If the target market is slow, the attorney may leave when the market gets busier. When the attorney goes, there is a cost associated with replacing them, the cost of lost work they could be doing for clients, and the cost to the morale of the attorneys left.