Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The market for BigLaw summer associates may be bouncing back just a bit

Especially for aspiring litigators and transactional attorneys. While graduates from top-tier law schools will benefit from the modest growth of BigLaw summer programs, there likely won't be any trickle down to schools outside the T-14. Thomson Reuters reports:

The worst of the summer-hiring slump for law students may be over, according to law school administrators and management consultants.

A pickup in litigation and transactional work over the last year, along with projections of modestly better revenue and earnings for 2012, is prompting some law firms to reinvigorate their summer hiring plans, said Paula Alvary, principal of consulting firm Hoffman Alvary, which advises law firms on strategy and management.

The good news started to gather in 2011. A new assessment found that several top schools saw an increase in law firms' summer hiring of their students last year, confirming previous reports that summer-associate hiring has begun to recover.

"Firms are making a very, very cautious return to summer hiring," said Alvary. "They are treading carefully, but they don't want to be caught short two to three years from now."

While students should not count on a return to the eye-popping numbers of the boom era -- when larger firms hired dozens of associates every summer -- the market has been showing positive signs, said Douglas Rush, a professor of education at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.

"Firms are again starting to hire for summer positions, though not in the numbers they did before the recession," he said.

Last August, The American Lawyer released the results of its 2011 survey of law-firm hiring, which found that the average summer class size at more than 100 law firms was up 25 percent from 2010.


To get a better sense of the hiring impact on individual law schools, Reuters asked a group of top-rated law schools for their most up-to-date year-to-year data.

At New York University School of Law -- currently ranked No. 6 by US News & World Report -- preliminary data show that about 70 percent of incoming third-year students got summer associate positions in 2011, up 15 percentage points from 2010. At No. 5-ranked University of Chicago, the number was 77 percent, up eight points from 2010. The increase was three percentage points at No. 1-ranked Yale, and four percentage points at No. 7-ranked University of Michigan.

Students at top-tier schools may be experiencing more of a improvement in summer hiring than those at lower-tier schools, which tend to send fewer students to the top firms, Alvary said.

"Top-end firms continue to rely heavily on summer associate programs, but mid-level firms are reassessing their processes for training lawyers," she said. "There's a differentiation in the market."

Summer associate jobs -- long sought-after for serving as feeders to well-paid jobs after graduation -- became tougher to get in the wake of the recession, even for students at the most elite law schools, as firms slashed their summer programs.

The dropoff was steepest between the summers of 2009 and 2010, according to data compiled by Harvard. In 2009 the top 100 law firms offered approximately 6,123 summer-associate positions. One year later, that number fell to 3,211 -- a reduction of nearly 50 percent.

"The impact of 2008's financial crisis wasn't really felt at law schoolsuntil the following year," said Irene Dorzback, assistant dean of career services at NYU. "Students interviewing in 2009 for summer associate jobs in 2010 ... were hit the hardest."


The sudden decline is reflected in the experiences of top-ten-ranked law schools. At NYU, 55 percent of incoming third-year students held summer positions in 2010, down from 80 percent a year earlier. At Michigan, the drop was to 51 percent from 75 percent; at the University of Chicago the numbers were 69 percent and 89 percent, respectively.

Among the elite of the elite, however, the dropoff was not as steep. At Harvard Law School -- ranked No. 2 -- approximately 77 percent of incoming third-year students had summer associate jobs in 2010, a drop from 85 percent in 2009, according to Mark Weber, Harvard Law's assistant dean for career services.

"We have very good employment numbers, but the jobs didn't fall into anyone's lap," said Weber. "Students had to work harder and expand the scope of their searches. So, many landed (summer associate) work at firms, but was it at the firm they wanted, in the location they wanted, doing type work they wanted to do?"

At Yale, there was no perceptible dropoff between 2009 and 2010: 72 percent of rising third-year Yale students took summer associate jobs each year.

Hat tip to ATL.



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