ATL’s March Madness starts today. We want you to crown the best cities for practicing law.
We’re jumping right into the Sweet Sixteen. Some people weren’t happy with the sixteen cities that made the cut. Even though their populations are sizeable, cities like Phoenix and Miami didn’t get invited to the Big Dance. If retirees outnumber lawyers in your town, you were disqualified from the tournament.
Here is the bracket for the “Best City to Practice Law” competition:
The first two regions, with some commentary from your Vitale-channeling editors, after the jump.
Kash is your guide for the East Conference:
NEW YORK CITY v. BOSTON
New York is the Biglaw wet dream. You’re working on the most important private equity deals, and making more money than your Biglaw friends across the country. If rubbing elbows with Wall Street titans doesn’t give you a hard-on, this may not be the town for you.
At $156K, the mean annual salary for lawyers is higher than in any of our other March Madness cities. That big salary, though, is a necessity. The city’s many delights do not often come cheap. And New York has its downsides. As we warn in the waiver on our Courtship Connection emails, “dating here is a dangerous enterprise.” Lawyers’ love lives are not improved by the long hours demanded by the Big Apple’s dealmakers.
And the past year has left this city’s law firms ravaged. Layoffs have hit New York harder than other towns, thanks to Wall Street’s troubles.
Boston has not escaped layoffs either, though no Boston-based firms are on Law Shuck’s top ten lists. Boston lawyers make less than their New York counterparts, with a mean annual salary of $135K, but money goes farther when your signature dish is a bowl of soup.
When it comes to law firms, Boston is an insular city. The firms like their lawyers born, bred, and educated in the Bean Town. If you like closed networks, Boston’s the city for you. Though one commenter points out:
The biggest downside to Boston is that with our 10 million law schools it’s impossible for new students to find work.
I have to admit to a bit of bias here. I’ve lived in New York for two years and only been to Boston once to visit a boyfriend, eight years ago. My impressions: lots of historic plaques, decent Italian food, and terrible weather. Suffice to say I didn’t have any inclination to go back. My major takeaway was to steer clear of dating Harvard men. So I’ll let Elie chime in here…
Elie here: Taxes, Massholes, a cloudy pallor that doesn’t lift for months at a time, what’s not to love about Boston? For one of the most politically liberal cities on the planet, it’s puritanical roots of Blue Laws and early bar closing times are at first, curious, and later, maddening.
On the positive side, you can live comfortably on a lawyer’s salary in Boston. In the 2-1-2, you still feel like a plebe.
Which city does it for you, Nor’easters?
PHILADELPHIA v. WASHINGTON, D.C.
The city of brotherly love goes head to head with the city of lawyerly love. Philadelphia is definitely the underdog going into this match-up. Lawyers are king in D.C. after all; the city has the greatest concentration of lawyers in the country. And lawyers command respect there — you won’t hear “boring lawyer” jokes in that town.
In D.C., you do though have to put up with politics, and lawyers at the DOJ and at corporate firms have been caught in the crossfire recently.
Philadelphia is a second-string legal town. And c’mon, no one dreams of one day “making it” in Philly. It’s a city you wind up in by default, if, for example, UPenn is the only Ivy League school to which you manage to score admission.
One commenter disagrees and wants to see this lady in the final dance:
The winner SHOULD be Philadelphia for all the following reasons:
1) Great legal tradition in Center City
2) Top Law firms (e.g., Morgan, Dechert, DBR, Blank Rome, Eckert)
3) All the art (e.g., Philly Museum of Art) and Restaurants of big City (e.g., Morimoto)
4) The BEST Cost of Living in Northeast — $160 Philly = $320 NYC
5) Great Location btwn NYC & DC
6) Nation’s First Capital
7) the E-A-G-L-E-S
8) proposal to build the nation’s tallest building (in addition to Comcast center).
9) Diversity in the City of Brotherly Love.
Signs point to problems for the legal field in Philly though.
Finally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, D.C. lawyers make better bank — average salary $145K — than Philly lawyers — average salary $132K. Vote your pleasure:
Elie is your guide for the South Conference:
DALLAS v. CHARLOTTE
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the average lawyer salary. With a mean attorney salary of $138,380 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), Dallas-Ft. Worth lawyers can certainly afford the apocryphal 3,500 sq/ft wife and a Lexus.
But life isn’t just about money. In Dallas you are provided with fantastic food and beautiful weather. Your life outside the office is like one never-ending tailgate. It’s a wonderful life.
If you like barbecue and football, that is. And you’d better like barbecue and football, because outside of that, there isn’t a whole lot to do when in Dallas. I was there on a case once and ye gods, what the hell do you people do after midnight? You can’t go anywhere without a designated driver in tow, and by designated driver I mean “someone who might blow a .08, buts it’s cool because he can handle his liquor.”
And don’t count on any lawyer prestige when mingling with the upper echelons of Dallas society. It’s like every rich Texan has some story about how a lawyer screwed him out of a big drill because there was some multicolored fish that screwed up his environmental impact evaluation. I said to one of ‘em, “I’m not an EPA lawyer,” and he shot back: “Well, I’m sure you’ll put your Constitution in my wallet sooner or later.” I was going to say something snarky about how it was his Constitution too, but I didn’t want to experience the business end of the Second Amendment. In Dallas, you’re in energy or you’re not really in the game.
At least they still have a game. With the recession hitting all the banks really hard, what do you think the legal market is like in Charlotte right now? The BLS tells us that the average lawyer salary is $121,510, but that doesn’t take into account all the financial service attorneys currently doing their best “Dirk Diggler after the fall” impersonation.
The Queen City still represents the finest the antebellum South has to offer. There is a charm and hospitality down there unbeknown to Northeastern curmudgeons.
And even if Southern culture isn’t your thing, thanks to the banks Charlotte boasts, there is an ever burgeoning population of Northeast transplants. Last time I was down there (I’ve got family in Charlotte) people were at least as interested in the Jets as they were in the Panthers. If the legal economy ever comes back, one would imagine Charlotte to be as desirable a location for lawyers as it was before the recession.
Because of population and recession, Charlotte is a huge underdog in this matchup. But, it is March Madness time, which means you shouldn’t count out anything from North Carolina.
HOUSTON v. ATLANTA
What can I say about Houston that hasn’t already been said by my favorite sports columnist, Bill Simmons?
In the past four years, I made four separate trips to Houston and spent a total of 24 days here. And you know why I did it? For you, the reader. I covered the Galleryfurniture.com Bowl, the Super Bowl, baseball’s All-Star Game, and now, the NBA All-Star Game. And you know what? That’s too much freaking time to spend in Houston. My editors just bleeped me, I don’t care. Maybe Houston doesn’t suck any more or less than 20 other major cities, and maybe the people are friendly and likable, but the fact remains, you would never come here for any reason, other than these three:
(1) For work.
(2) To gain weight.
(3) To get shot.
I’ve also had to spend extensive time in Houston, and I find it hard to disagree. Houston is not my kind of town.
But then again, I’m not Houston’s kind of person. Sadly, not everybody wants to be my friend, so if you hate me, you might love Houston. And you’ll make some money too: average lawyer salary in Houston is $136,380.
It’s a city that defies labeling — it’s an industrial city that is yet home to more Fortune 500 headquarters than anywhere but New York. It’s a city that doesn’t feel particularly intellectual or erudite, yet it’s where NASA runs the space program. I saw arguably the worst Shakespearean production of my life there, yet the theater was packed and the audience knew exactly how terribly awful the performance was. There are large numbers of Latinos and African-Americans, and African immigrants living there, right alongside Texans that look like caricatures of themselves. Maybe I should spend more time there, but the city is so sprawling that it’s hard to know where Houston stops and hell begins.
You might think that the Houston/Atlanta match up is an easy choice for a person like me. But I haven’t always enjoyed my time in the A-T-L. Atlanta is kind of like the Israel of America: a (well armed) community of ethnic minorities surrounded by enemies on all sides. Inside the city limits you feel safe, if a little bit tense because of all the firepower around you. Outside of Atlanta you feel … well tense because you don’t have nearly enough firepower.
Lawyers in Atlanta make slightly more money than lawyers in Houston: $138,240 according to BLS. That can buy a lot of central air conditioning units to deal with the mostly oppressive heat. It can also buy you access to some of the nicest amenities life has to offer in this thoroughly modern city. Atlanta shares virtually nothing in common with the sleepy Southern capitols of yore. It’s young, it’s affluent, and it’s culturally relevant in a serious way. Sure, you’ll need to spool up your FTL drive to get around the airport — but there’s nothing residents of the city need that they can’t have right at home.
Houston and Atlanta are two cities living the same kind of dream: warm weather centers of industry and new American business. A lawyer can find high end work in these places, both at firms or in-house. What’s not to love — except everything I’ve already mentioned?
Voting ends Sunday at midnight.
Earlier: ATL March Madness: Which is the Best City to Practice Law?