Hawaii & Alaska

The perks to lawyering in Hawaii are as clear as its sunny blue skies: a tropical climate, Hawaiian shirts in the office, and a laid back atmosphere where you don't have to practice the ancient art of Hoʻoponopono (traditional dispute resolution and forgiveness) to feel goodwill toward your coworkers. A legal career in Alaska offers the advantages of mountain views, clear air and moose sauntering through your backyard.


HAWAII'S legal market is concentrated in downtown Honolulu, and the courts, government agencies and law firms there tend to be small in size. Local firms that offer summer programs include Carlsmith Ball, Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, Case Lombardi & Pettit, Starn O'Toole Marcus & Fisher, Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert, and the nattily named M4. Ties to the area, whether through family or education, are at a premium when it comes to getting recruited.

The University of Hawaii's prestigious Richardson School of Law is the surest way into a legal career in Honolulu. It offers state-specific courses in Native Hawaiian law, environmental law and Pacific-Asian studies. It only takes 85 students a year though, and its admission team tends to favor students who are already resident on the islands. Carving out a legal career in Hawaii isn't easy, and some aspiring lawyers hoping for a side of sun often turn to larger hubs like Miami or LA.

Hawaii is best known as a tourist hub, welcoming plane-loads of lei-toting visitors all year round thanks to its tropical climate. Its development into a summer-sports paradise has posed some distinct legal challenges, many of which are related to Native Hawaiian rights. Native Hawaiians have protected access to fishing and hunting rights, as well as certain water sources and areas of land. But in a small and densely populated cluster of islands, these rights are increasingly challenged by businesses eager to expand their reach. The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation provides legal assistance to communities and families whose lands and resources are under threat.

Native Hawaiians are also battling for greater recognition by the federal government, or even independence. The state was an independent kingdom until the US illegally overthrew Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1893, and now Native Hawaiians comprise only 10% of the islands' populations. Senator Daniel Akaka tried to push through a bill for federal recognition of Native Hawaiians between 2000 and 2010, but efforts to establish nation-to-nation relations have floundered, in part due to Native Hawaiian frustration at the US government's failure to make reparations for its decades of colonialism.


Chasing the Northern Lights isn't the only reason to head to America's chilliest state.

The bright lights of Anchorage, which houses 40% of Alaska's population and most of its businesses, shine on a small but lively legal market. The capital isn't the easiest place to live, thanks to inhospitable weather and seemingly endless winter nights, but for lawyers who can brave the freeze, there's the advantage of a close-knit community and more winter sports than you can shake a ski-pole at.

While other states wrestle with a dramatic oversupply of law graduates, Alaska has no such trouble. It's the only state without a law school. Seattle University's School of Law, which has long offered its students a summer program on Alaskan legal issues at its satellite campus in Anchorage, is on its way to remedying this: in 2014 it won ABA approval to allow students to spend not only their summers but their entire third year in Alaska.

Environment, natural resources and regulated industries are big practice areas in Alaska. It's no secret why: the state sits on vast oil reserves and is home to an impressive range of flora and fauna (black bears are often sighted within cities, and the Anchorage area in particular plays host to a lot of mountain goats and wolves). The interests of ecologists, native Alaskans, oil prospectors and the federal government are constantly rubbing up against each other, making for a lot of litigation work, often with a regulatory slant.

There are 13 Chambers USA-ranked law firms in Alaska. These include a handful of national names, like K&L Gates and Squire Patton Boggs, as well as Seattle or DC-based outfits that have spread their wings, among them Davis Wright Tremaine, Perkins Coie, Lane Powell, Dorsey & Whitney and Stoel Rives. The bulk of these firms have launched offices in Alaska to take advantage of all the oil and gas work, much of which involves exploration work or issues related to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Big homegrown firms in Alaska include: Birch, Horton, Bittner & Cherot (which also has a Washington, DC office to serve the state of Alaska in government dealings); Durrell Law Group; Ashburn & Mason; Guess & Rudd; Atkinson, Conway & Gagnon; and Sedor, Wendlandt, Evans & Filippi.

The market might not be the most varied one out there, but if you're a fan of the climate there's a lot to be said for the lifestyle the region can offer. Just make sure you're not going to change your mind: flights to the lower 48 are lengthy and don't come cheap. 

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