Explore what California has to offer


This market profile provides an overview of the Californian legal market with more detailed information on the Los Angeles market and business opportunities.

Part 1: California

There are over 1,100,000 licensed lawyers in the United States; over 217,300 are based in California making it the largest Bar in the country.

1. The Californian legal services market

The major legal centres in California are Los Angeles, San Francisco and Silicon Valley (encompassing parts of Palo Alto and San Diego).

There are over 161,100 practising lawyers in the State of California out of the 217,300 licensed attorneys, with the majority based in Los Angeles County.

California is home to some of the biggest national American law firms including Latham & Watkins (AML #2), Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker (AML #15), O’Melveny & Myers (AML #18) and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher (AML #20).

It is also a place where smaller law firms have developed boutique practices to complement key business sectors in the state including technology, intellectual property, entertainment, life sciences and so on.

Two English firms have offices in California: Osborne Clarke has a Silicon Valley office in Palo Alto and Clyde and Co has an office in San Francisco. The State is home to the second largest group of lawyers with English practising certificates based in the United States; the majority are based in New York.

2. The regulation and representation of lawyers

The profession is regulated by the State Bar of California which is part of California’s Supreme Court. Membership is mandatory for all practising lawyers. With over 160,400 attorneys in active practice out of a membership of over 216,300 it is the largest state bar in the USA (June 2008).

3. Developing links and business opportunities in California

Working through trade associations, attending seminars and conferences, submitting work to publications and working through existing contacts will help build a profile and develop business networks. It is important to visit the market regularly to maintain contacts, and there are opportunities to get involved in inward visits of US lawyers through the Law Society’s International Division.

California has organisations at both state and city level that provide such opportunities, some aimed specifically at British business:

UK Trade & Investment Los Angeles: The UKTI team in Los Angeles assists British organisations who wish to expand their operations to the western United States, including Washington State, Arizona, Southern California, Hawaii, Nevada (Clark County), and Utah. Contact UKTI in Los Angeles. Their Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) is a government-subsidised service that delivers Pre-Visit and In-Market support to visiting UK companies.

British American Business Council Los Angeles: BABC Los Angeles promotes trade and investment by supporting economic growth between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Society of English and American Lawyers (SEAL): an informal group based in the UK of lawyers from both sides of Atlantic providing social networking and seminars. Contact international@lawsociety.org.uk for more details.

4. Californian legal news and publications

There are two state-wide publications to help research the legal market, find news about a particular firm or lawyer:

The California Lawyer is a monthly publication with news from the State and legal events. It publishes the California 50 survey of the State’s largest law firms ranked by number of lawyers. It also provides information on partners and equity.

Cal Law is part of the law.com network and provides news on law firms, court decisions, in house legal updates, civil and criminal matters. The annual Cal Law 25 provides figures on revenues and salaries of Californian firms. In addition, city bar associations provide their own publications on news for that area (see Los Angeles below).

5. Find a lawyer in California

The State Bar of California provides a database of California attorneys to confirm admittance the Bar and any public disciplinary records. There is also a Legal Specialist search to find attorneys that certified by the State Bar or an accredited body to a particular area of law.

6. Current legal issues in California

Lawsuit abuse: despite the State’s strong economy, there are concerns that weaknesses in its legal system are leading to ‘lawsuit abuse’. The 2008 US legal climate survey ranked California 45 out of the 50 states for ‘lawsuit abuse’, and Los Angeles was named the least fair and reasonable litigation environment in the country . A separate survey of California business owners found that 88 percent believe frivolous lawsuits are a serious problem .

Regulatory developments: following a three year review, the State Bar has recently approved new rules that will require attorneys to tell their clients if they do not carry malpractice insurance. Smaller firms and sole practitioners have expressed concerns that it would affect them disproportionately and reduce low-cost legal services. The recommendation now goes to the California Supreme Court for approval.

Electronic discovery: the California Judicial Council is proposing new statutes and rules that address production of electronically stored information. Electronic discovery has driven up the costs of litigation now that more than 93 percent of all communications are digital. The rules are likely to come into affect in 2009 after public comments on the proposals.

Part 2: Los Angeles

1. The Los Angeles legal services market

Whilst California and Los Angeles may bring to mind Hollywood and the entertainment industry, there are a variety of different sectors offering business opportunities for law firms:

  • Clean technologies
  • Information and Communication
  • Technology
  • Creative industries
  • Life sciences
  • Financial and business services
  • In Los Angeles, the structure of business tends to focus on ‘middle market’ companies; companies that are still immensely profitable but outsource functions such as legal or accounting to outside firms rather than keeping them in house thus providing business opportunities to law firms of all sizes.

The geographical layout of Los Angeles also affects business structures as the vast city has several ‘centres’ with business hubs, such as the Downtown area home to the Financial District or Century City on the West Side of Los Angeles.

2. The regulation and representation of lawyers

Membership of the State Bar of California is mandatory to practise in the state (see above). At a local level, the Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA) is a voluntary bar for attorneys in Los Angeles County with over 25,000 members. The LACBA has 28 affiliated bars including the Century City Bar Association and the Beverly Hills Bar Association. It provides training through sections and public services including a lawyer referral service.

The LACBA International Section offers membership to foreign lawyers and can be a useful networking body. Membership includes a listing in the LACBA directory, access to a list serve and publications.

3. Los Angeles legal news and publications

The Los Angeles County Bar Association (LABCA) publishes the monthly Los Angeles Lawyer.