Summer Associate Hiring Down Dramatically, with Little Indication of Prospects for Next Summer: What Does It Mean for Law School Students?

Law CareersThe AmLaw Daily yesterday released the results of its survey of summer associate hiring for 2010.  It’s not surprising that, of the 114 law firms that responded to the survey (many firms did not), summer associate hiring was down 44% from 2009.  That’s a considerably sharper decline than had been indicated in some prior press, but is the most reliable number we’re aware of.

The extent of the cutbacks varied among firms, and a few firms actually increased summer associate hires, although those firms were generally not sponsors of the larger programs.  The most dramatic cutbacks tended to be at those firms who had been stalwarts of summer associate programs.  A complete chart of respondents is available in the article, and it’s worth taking some time to correlate that list with the AmLaw “A-List” and “Up and Comers” lists published earlier this summer.

In addition, though AmLaw didn’t report much information about the prospects for 2011 summer programs, one firm that did go on record, Gibson Dunn, which had one the largest reported classes (still representing a 27% decline from 2009), indicated that it does “not expect the size of next year’s program to be dramatically different from this year’s.”

As readers of this blog know, I’m of two minds about these reductions.  On the one hand, I think that summer associate programs have in the past been somewhat excessive.  That’s not necessarily bad, but the programs often focused at least as much on public relations as they did on training and teaching new lawyers who may come to work for them.  Decreasing the size of those programs—and the attendant perks—may provide a welcome opportunity for law firms to provide more intensive training to the summers they hire and, for the summers, a more accurate impression of what it’s like to work as a lawyer.

On the other hand, 44% is a big number (mitigated only somewhat by the fact that yields at large firms on their summer associate programs, i.e., the proportion of summers who actually become first-year associates, have frequently been under 50%).  The extent of the decrease reflects continuing tightness in the legal hiring market, especially in view of the systemic importance of large firms to the legal market as a whole—they are the market drivers.  Second, although the reported portions of the AmLaw survey do not correlate the new hiring regime with law schools, it is more than likely that opportunities for students at non-elite law schools have been reduced disproportionately in comparison with their elite law school counterparts.  In addition, even within elite law schools, it almost has to be the case that many fewer of their students are joining summer programs, which means that they will join the hunt for non-firm jobs next year, while in the past some would have been soaked up by large law firms.  That will create further pressure on the non-large-law firm market for everyone.

What are the implications of this new confirmation of continued legal market weakness?  It’s not new information so much as a dramatic data point that underlines the importance—for those considering law school and current law students alike—of several key points we’ve been making for some time on this blog.

What’s below doesn’t pretend to be a complete list—think of it as a few essentials (the links provide more information and pathways to further information).  Needless to say, these are also a few of the key components of my work with every Advise-In client:

–have a clear understanding of how much the current weakness—and uncertain future—of the legal hiring market means to you.  That will be influenced in no small measure by what you want after law school;

–approach your law school applications like a professional, including having an advisor who consciously helps you hone and develop your own professionalism at every turn:

–be smart about your LSAT preparation (keep it simple, take the LSAT once (ideally), don’t over- or under-prepare and don’t try to save yourself a few dollars now that may cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the future);

–if you’re still a student, continue to do your best in classes and extracurricular activities, and don’t let the law school application process or the LSAT overwhelm that still-important work;

–think of your application package as a portrait, and understand the place and value of each piece of it in relation to the key skills law schools are looking for and the holistic picture of yourself you’re trying to create;

–target your law school applications carefully and strategically, understanding what post-graduation opportunities they are likely to yield (including any recent changes to how those law schools operate or are perceived, such as changes to grading systems) and financial aid packages they are likely to offer, and calibrate the value of any financial aid with those post-graduation opportunities;

–know how to (carefully) negotiate between law schools, if you have several realistic opportunities;

–use each stage of the process to develop the skills and abilities that will help make you a better lawyer;

–work out a timetable in advance that allow you to do everything you need to do in a comfortable timeframe; that will make the process easier and each test result and piece of paper you produce will be of a much higher quality;

–once in law school, in addition to being the best law student that it’s possible for you to be, pay careful attention to the changing legal hiring market, and have an early and continuing familiarity with the opportunities available to you and your colleagues; always have a few plans in mind for your first and second summers, and have clear steps to their execution.  Most important, have a clear idea of why you want to follow the tracks you’ve laid out for yourself, what they involve and why you think you’ll be happy in pursuit of them.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on July 22, 2010.

2 Responses to “Summer Associate Hiring Down Dramatically, with Little Indication of Prospects for Next Summer: What Does It Mean for Law School Students?”

  1. […] any five firms make up a small part of the market.  In addition, that increase is over against a 2010 class that had been drastically smaller across the market.  On the bright side, the recent announcements may exert pressure on the […]

  2. This is an interesting, yet sad post for any potential lawyers out there. Law firms are not hiring the way they used to, due to a decrease in the demand for lawyers, and summer associate positions are dwindling as well. I was just reading an article that was talking about how the supply for new lawyers is low, and if you want to practice law you should wait a few years. With all of the negativity surrounding law school and law firms, it might not be such a bad idea to take some time off before attending.

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