Guide to living and working as a lawyer in New York

Everything you need to know about relocating to the Big Apple by Nick Robbins of Nicholas Scott Global Legal Recruitment

Includes:

  • Introduction to New York
  • The legal market
  • Visas and relocation
  • Salaries
  • Requalification
  • After work

Introduction to New York

New York is one of the largest, most diverse and exciting cities in the world with an approximate population of 8.4 million. Some of the most successful and competitive international firms have offices in New York City.

New York, alongside London, is the world's leading financial centre, therefore attracting a high number of foreign and internationally qualified lawyers, with plenty of career opportunities in New York for an ambitious lawyer.

The legal market

The city is home to large law firms, which tend to have clients that are global businesses or individuals who can afford the fees the top firms charge. The small law firms tend to the needs of individuals and small businesses who cannot afford representation from the large firms.

There are plenty of legal opportunities due to the city's economic growth and the globalisation of these firms; this has meant there is an increasing need for legal assistance.

New York’s legal market is split into three sections: leading ‘White Shoe’ firms, international firms and domestic mid-tier/boutique firms. To work within the US legal market a strong academic background is essential (you will need a copy of your academic transcript) and employers prefer that candidates have passed the New York Bar (for more information please refer to the requalification section).

New York is an attractive destination to develop a legal career for lawyers from all over the world, not only due to the size and reputation of its firms and the high-profile international deals, but also because it provides the opportunity to work alongside some of the world’s leading lawyers. This does mean that there is a lot of competition for securing a role in a top New York firm.

Visas and relocation

In order to work as a lawyer in the US you will need a H-1B visa. This allows companies to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations, with the visa lasting for up to six years, making it a popular choice among employers bringing in staff on a long-term basis.

The visa application needs to be made by the firm as individuals are not permitted to apply for this particular type of visa. The visa is initially for three years but as mentioned above, can be extended for up to six years. After six years you can apply for US residency by getting a green card. If you are not able to get a green card but want to continue working with a H-1B visa you need to live outside the US for at least one year before reapplying.

With the H-1B visa you are able to take a spouse and any children who are under the age of 21 to the US with you; they would fall under the H4 visa category. Under a H4 visa the spouse or child is not permitted to work but they can attend school, get a driving licence and open a US bank account.


Click here to read more Nicholas Scott Career Guides, including the Guide to living and working as an offshore lawyer: Cayman Islands, BVI and Bermuda


Salaries

New York is known for being an expensive city but the salaries for lawyers in the top firms compensate for the high cost of living.

Class year Salary 
2021 $215,000 
2020 $225,000 
2019 $250,000 
2018 $295,000 
2017 $345,000 
2016 $370,000 
2015 $400,000 
2014+ $415,000 

Further info on bonuses for each respective class year can be found here - https://www.biglawinvestor.com/biglaw-salary-scale/ 

US tax rates 2021:

Tax rate Taxable income bracket Tax owed 
4% $0 to $8,500 4% of taxable income 
4.5% $8,501 to $11,700 $340 plus 4.5% of the amount over $8,500 
5.25% $11,701 to $13,900 $484 plus 5.25% of the amount over $11,700 
5.9% $13,901 to $21,400 $600 plus 5.9% of the amount over $13,900 
5.97% $21,401 to $80,650 $1,042 plus 5.97% of the amount over $21,400 
6.33% $80,651 to $215,400 $4,579 plus 6.33% of the amount over $80,650 
6.85% $215,401 to $1,077,550 $13,109 plus 6.85% of the amount over $215,400 
9.65% $1,077,550 to $5,000,000 $72,166 plus 9.65% of the amount over $1,077,550 
10.30% $5,000,001 to $25,000,000 $450,683 plus 10.30% of the amount over $5,000,000 
10.90% $25,000,001 and up $2,510,683 plus 10.90% of the amount over $25,000,000 

Source: Nerdwallet

Associate bonuses can vary in New York and this can depend on either: personal performance or the overall performance of the firm.

Many firms tend to help foreign lawyers with the relocation process, some pay: flights, reasonable costs for shipping personal items, immigration and visa expenses and temporary accommodation for a limited period.

With high salaries and relatively low tax rates, it is easy to see why New York would appeal financially to international lawyers.

Working hours 

As you would expect the working culture in a New York law firm is ‘committed’ and you will be expected to make yourself available for partners and clients. Post Covid there is a more open approach as to how you work, with three days per week in the office being seen as more of the norm. Target hours for associates at US and international firms is now uniform across firms' New York and London offices i.e. 1,850 to 2,000 target hours.

Requalification

As briefly mentioned in order to practice in New York you would need to have completed the New York Bar. In many cases the firm will help with this by offering study leave and financial assistance. You must be 21 or over in order to register to take the Bar.

The process is governed by the New York State of Board Examiners, which sets out that foreign-qualified lawyers must satisfy four eligibility requirements before being allowed to sit the bar:

1. Have a qualifying law degree
2. The law degree is from an accredited university recognised by the applicant's home country
3. The law degree needs to be equivalent in length to US degrees recognised by the American Bar Association (three years)
4. Equivalent to an ABA-approved degree

(You do not have to be admitted into practice in your own jurisdiction)

The Bar is taken over two days. However, simply completing the Bar is not enough; in order to practice in New York you must also pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam. Due to having a degree from a foreign university, the cost of the Bar is $750 plus $80 to register for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam.

In 2016, 4,852 foreign educated candidates sat the New York Bar.

After work

New York is well-known as a city that never sleeps. This is partly due to it being one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world, with 800 languages spoken.

There are countless things to do and see with a wide array of bars, restaurants, theatres, museums and events influenced by the large variety of cultures living together in the city. New York also has plenty of popular tourist attractions that are worth a visit such as: Times Square, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.

Getting around New York is unproblematic with fast and cheap public transport services running 24-hours a day. There is plenty to keep you occupied and entertained in New York City.

Nick Robbins is founder and director of Nicholas Scott Global Legal Recruitment, the exclusive provider of jobs for The Global Legal Post. For more information about moving to New York, email nick@nicholas-scott.com

Click here to read more Nicholas Scott Career Guides

Email your news and story ideas to: news@globallegalpost.com

Top