With its harsh criminal punishment and strident self defense laws, the South gets a lot of stick for its approach to law enforcement. Read on to discover why so many young lawyers look beyond the stereotypes and have 'gone to Texas' for an exciting and fulfilling legal career.
Everything is bigger in Texas...
...SO they say, and not just with regard to the intimidating food portions. Land in Texas and the South is cheaper than elsewhere, particularly in contrast to Chicago and New York, making the area popular with big families; playgrounds in Texas now bustle with an above-average number of kids. As Karen Sargent of the career services office at Southern Methodist University notes: "Texas is a great place for young families. There are excellent school districts and lots of ways to get involved with the community. It's bringing people in from all over the world." For a state that often receives bad press for its conservative values, you may be surprised to learn that San Antonio, Texas' second biggest city, boasts the largest community of gay parents in the US.
The state is welcoming to more than just those who want to settle down. "Houston's a great place to live for young people," an associate at Baker Botts in Houston attested. "You can live close to the office and enjoy a short commute and relatively low cost of living. Generally, younger folks might rent an apartment close in for a bit, then look for a house with a yard and a few bedrooms when they want to start a family." Already the state's biggest city, Houston has been a popular destination for young attorneys in the past few years. As an associate at Bracewell stipulated: "I think Houston has garnered a lot more national recognition as a good place to live with a good legal market, since we weathered the recession better than some cities. In the past it might have seemed weird for people to move to Texas if they didn't already have connections with the state, but now it's completely normal."
An abundance of investment opportunities has bred pretty healthy legal markets. Dallas and Houston are two of the largest markets in the country, with the Dallas/Fort Worth area housing more than 10,000 corporate HQs, more than anywhere else in the States. As such, Texas firms have opened their doors to a flood of lateral hires over the past few years. One Haynes & Boone associate told us: “There's been a lot of change in the Houston market over the last few years, with many national and international firms opening up here. We've seen people leaving the traditional Texan firms to go to them, so there's been more in the way of turnover than normal.” Since 2010, Latham & Watkins, Sidley Austin, Quinn Emanuel, Kirkland & Ellis, Arnold & Porter, K&L Gates, Reed Smith, and Katten Muchin have all launched Houston branches. Longstanding Texan firms are increasingly under pressure to up their game since young associates looking to start their careers now have a lot more choice of where to go.
Houston and Dallas rank among the highest-paying metropolitan areas in the country for lawyers, and most associates in Texas can expect to earn the same as their New York counterparts. Since the state doesn't collect individual income tax, however, the standard BigLaw salary goes a lot further here: according to a recent CNN survey, a salary of $160,000 in Dallas gets you the same buying power as someone raking in $374,772 in New York. Inevitably, the state's social services have suffered from these low tax rates, but for young lawyers they're highly alluring.
But it's not just lawyers that are falling for the Lone Star State. Despite the recent plummet in oil prices, Texas remains a popular destination for tradesmen, professionals, families... anybody in fact. In a recent survey by the US Census Bureau, the state housed eight of 2015's top 20 US counties when measured by population gain. According to the Texas A&M University Real Estate Center, swelling numbers have pushed Texas' median home price up by 37% in the past decade, topping out at $189,000 in January 2016. Still, living in Texas remains a steal compared to the likes of LA or New York.
Oh my gush!
A thick black soup rained down on Texas and the South in the early 20th century and continues to shape the economic landscape to this day. The oil discoveries of the so-called Gusher Age fueled a meteoric rise in the area's fortunes, and these days a number of high-profile petroleum companies are based in the state, among them ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Valero, Halliburton and Marathon Oil. These Fortune 500s generate not only power but also a healthy check for lawyers, with energy work a huge component of many local firms' business.
The boom time may well be up in this respect, though. Due to an increasing global supply and falling demand, oil prices plummeted by nearly 66% in 2015, and the number of actively drilling rigs decreased by 75%. The state produces more than a third of the United States' total oil output, and such disparaging figures posed a huge blow to the sector, with employment dropping by 19.4% in 2015. Still, such fluctuations bode well for the state's legal workforce, prompting a rise in bankruptcy, restructuring and employment-related work. Amanda Kelly, manager of attorney recruitment at Haynes and Boone, remains optimistic: "Despite the downturn in energy prices, the Texas economy is still robust. For law school students the array of jobs available here, coupled with the low cost of living, continues to make Texas very enticing." Karen Sargent of SMU chimes in to note that "a number of North-Eastern schools are now bringing their students down here to recruit."
Whatever happens on that front, the energy sector isn't Texas' only pull-factor. As Kelly points out: "Many people don’t realize that Texas is second only to New York in the number of Fortune 1000 company headquarters. Our firm serves 20% of the Fortune 500 corporations in a wide variety of industries, including energy, technology, aviation, transportation and healthcare so we are diversified and staying busy. Right now, for example, real estate has ramped up nicely, and a good amount of our work is coming in from outside Texas, especially on the IP side." Sargent adds: "I'd say intellectual property law was originally the rocket docket in East Texas – we have a US patent and trademark office opening in Dallas now, and IP is a big focus of our law school. Obviously energy is big here, but that ebbs and flows with the economy. On the corporate side, we're a center for some of the largest corporations in the country, and that brings in a big deal of M&A work. Law firms are now moving into the Dallas area for IP and transactions, where they'd previously moved to Houston for energy."
Gone to Texas
The Panic of 1819 saw the first wave of mass migration to Texas. Droves of Americans flocked to the state with crippling debts hard on their heels, leaving only the simple message 'Gone To Texas,' or 'GTT,' fixed to their doors. Today it's lawyers and other corporate workers who are relocating to the Lone Star State en masse: since the millennium, one million more people have moved to Texas from other states than have left, with many seeking out a cheaper way of life and a less regulated climate in which to do business.
As a result, Texas' traditionally resource-fueled economy has become increasingly tech-oriented as the likes of Dell and AT&T plant HQs in the state; many have opened operations in The Silicon Hills of Austin in particular, including Facebook, eBay, Google and Apple. To maintain its competitive edge in a time of fast-developing technology and fickle alliances, certain cities have resorted to facelifts. "San Antonio, for example, is a very family-oriented city,” a Jackson Walker associate told us, “but there's a growing culture of nightlife benefiting from the growing number of tech firms bringing young professionals into the city.”
“Dallas is now drawing in young people who are attracted to the economy and are moving into all the new developments," Karen Sargent tells us. "They're moving into areas that are becoming heavily populated with young people, and they're having a good time.” The city has been investing in its Arts District and green spaces in particular; Houston is likewise intent to create a greener, more attractive city, spending more than $6 billion on regeneration projects over the past 15 years. “Houston has really been developing its downtown area," an associate at Baker Botts confirmed. "Discovery Green park has blossomed into a popular spot, hosting events and music to draw people down at weekends. They've made an effort to make it a really nice place.” And then there's the capital: “I think Austin is probably the best place to be living in Texas right now," said a Baker Botts associate based there. "It really lives up to its slogan, 'Keep Austin Weird.' There's a great music scene and great food, and it's really lively. I think a lot of it has to do with the University of Texas being here, so it's more collegey.”
Ask a Texan about life in the South and they'll tell you it gets hotter than a honeymoon hotel. Starched collars are bound to wilt in the tropical warmth, but apparently Houston's got an innovative way to beat the summer heat: “It's really brutal, but we've got an air-conditioned tunnel system downtown – all the offices are connected underground, with restaurants, dry cleaners and so on. It's like a ghost town above ground because you can go straight from your car to the office.”
Law and border
So the South has come a long way to cast off its image as resource-rich and intellect-sparse; it has also largely shifted the racial demographics which dominated up until the 1980s. While it's true that Southern cities were the domain of white men in the days of oil, the past three decades have seen the population become far more diverse.
Houston boasts the title of America's most ethnically diverse metropolitan region, pipping even New York to the post. Its proximity to the Mexican border has seen the Lone Star try to protect itself from Mexican immigration and influence, historically pushing for insularity in the face of progression, but like its world-famous TexMex fusion, the cultures have largely come to coexist. And with the immigration of Latinos, Asians and African-Americans over the past few decades, the state has become a melting pot of cultures from all corners of the globe. These changing demographics have led some to speculate whether Texas might eventually become a blue state politics-wise.
What can you expect of life as a lawyer in Texas and the South?
Our interviewees in Texas and the South have long been quick to sing the praises of southern culture, telling us a big part of that is respecting people's personal lives outside of work. “We have a very family-friendly environment," an associate at Jackson Walker said. "When we have social events we try to involve spouses whenever possible, and I feel like the firm respects my personal time. You're expected to work hard and provide excellent client service, but I definitely feel like the partners and other attorneys want me to enjoy my family time, to be a well-rounded person and get involved with community. The attitude here is that that's the right thing to do.”
According to an associate from Waller: “In the South there's a greater attention to form and decorum. If you're a jackass around here, you ain't gonna last long.” It's fitting that 'Texas' originates from the word 'tejas', which means 'friends' in the Caddo language. But friendliness doesn't detract from the serious work Southern lawyers do. When we asked Karen Sargent, of SMU, if practicing law in the South was more laid back than in New York, she replied: “It's more about civility. The attorneys here all know each other and their reputation is on the line at all times. They make sure to maintain civility in the legal profession.”
The emphasis on a life outside of work doesn't necessarily mean you'll have fewer billables in the South. The big local firms in Texas – Haynes and Boone, Baker Botts and Bracewell – all have 2,000 hour billing targets, the same target that DLA Piper in New York, Katten Muchin in Chicago, Irell & Manella in LA and Hunton & Williams in Richmond all set their associates. (In fact, you can find firms in those high-octane markets with even lower billing targets: Dechert and Epstein juniors, for example, are set 1,950 hours each.) Granted, working for Haynes and Boone or Baker Botts won't be the same as slugging it out at the traditional New York firms, many of which set no targets because it's assumed juniors will fly past them anyway, but it's worth noting that at firms like Haynes and Boone and Bracewell associates aren't compensated on the lockstep scale favored by NYC firms if they fall short of their targets. At Bracewell there's a reduced compensation track, and at Haynes juniors told us they were put on “the old Texas compressed scale” if they didn't rack up 2,000.