This fall we had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time in the Pacific Northwest—multiple trips to Seattle and Portland—and became better acquainted with the dynamics of that particular local/regional legal market.

No mention of those two cities would be complete without citing their fascination with all things (a) artisanal; (b) coffee-related; and (c) preservationist, so we will consider our duties on that score discharged by confirming that, yes, it’s indeed all true. And on the understanding that they are two of our favorite US cities, it’s sadly apparent that our New York-based wardrobe falls dramatically short in the category of fleece.

Be that as it may, we wanted to share some of our observations about the region with a broader audience because we think they hold lessons of wide application.

The region has been discovered

No longer a somewhat insulated or remote market, the Pacific Northwest has been found out by firms with a national or larger footprint. They’re establishing or enlarging offices and to some extent, but not yet radically as we perceived it, upsetting an equilibrium in the local talent market.

Their impact on lateral mobility seems so far to be somewhat limited. We assume this is due to a combination of indigenous lawyers being perfectly happy (“thank you very much”) at their home firms, the intensely local flavor of much of the practice and all of the personal networks, and lawyers’ predictable skepticism about how newish ventures are ultimately going to turn out.

Note that all three of our suppositions behind the impact of outside firms being limited, however, are perishable assets, or self-eroding conditions. To wit, (a) the membrance between local and outside talent is highly porous and can be traversed almost at will; and (b) what’s new and unproven today will be part of the landscape and a solid member of the business community in shockingly short order.

If you’re thinking here that I begged the question and didn’t explain why the region has been discovered, I have a few words for you: Amazon, Microsoft, Nike, Starbucks, Canadian energy, and the Pacific Rim.

Does “regionality” matter?

In virtually every meeting we had, the topic arose in the form of a question, a declaration of belief, or simply musing, whether the notion of an identifiable, contiguous, somewhat self-contained, and describable “region” still mattered or would continue to matter.

On the one hand, one merely need acknowledge the profound phenomenon of globalization to hypothesize that regions will lose their meaning in the future. For that matter, the tale of the United States to date has been (among many other things) one of local differences being diluted away into invisibility. Concepts like “New England” or “the Deep South” are probably invoked today more in a tone of nostalgia than hard core reality. And if I understand the mentality of mass marketers correctly, the categories that seem to matter are less”Vermont Yankee” or “California dude” and more “soccer mom” or “urban homesteader.”

On the other hand.

Regional differences remain, and to some extent immigrants from outside learn (and if they’re gracious about it, prefer) to adapt to local customs. We were instructed more than once, in the most helpful and sympathetic of tones, that we should be attuned to the Pacific Northwest’s reluctance to disagree and understand that (in implicit contrast to the behavior expected of New Yorkers) people might not tell us exactly what they thought. Whether the reticence was viewed as polite and deferential or as passive/aggressive depended on who we were talking with.

Ultimately, I come down on the same side as #1, above: Differences remain, and are real, but the process of erosion has set in and they may not last forever.

Yes, but what about local rates vs. national rates?

Lots of conversation on this topic.

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