Here at ATL, we’ve received many, many emails about “no offers.” We’ve provided extensive coverage and open threads galore.
The general message conveyed in these comments and emails is that firms somehow “owe” full-time, post-graduation employment to their summer associates. Under this line of thinking, once firms invite law students to spend a summer with them, they’re inviting them to move in after graduation.
That line of thinking is very 2006.
Times have changed, kids. In 2006, bright law students were hot and desirable; all the firms wanted to get into bed with them. Law students today, however, are like single women over 35. They’re desperate — and firms are warier of committing to them.
Perhaps law students should be thankful that firms want to date them at all. Let’s consider the evidence.
There was a time when getting a summer associate offer was like getting an engagement ring — but that’s not the case today. Now, a summer associate gig is more like dating: just because it won’t lead to marriage doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.
Despite recession-induced cutbacks, being a summer associate in 2009 was still a pretty sweet gig. Let’s look at the upsides of the SA experience:
- Summer associates are paid generously over the summer, earning at a six-figure annualized rate for several weeks (or months).
- Summer associates get experience in the Biglaw environment, including the opportunity to see which practice groups might best suit them.
- Summer associates make contacts in the legal world.
- Summer associates get a taste of corporate law firm life, helping them determine whether it’s the right fit for them.
- Many summer associates don’t work that hard — sometimes through no fault of their own, with real work in short supply — but for that kind of salary, shouldn’t hard work be required?
Essentially, being a summer associate is a great experience, whether it’s followed by a permanent job offer or not.
We’re not the only ones to compare law-firm courting to the romantic sort. A stranger did not buy Kash a drink at a bar on Friday, but we appreciate the hypothetical posed by this commenter:
I was at a bar tonight and Kash walked in. I spent a good 20 minutes flirting with her and even bought her a drink. When I made a move on her she no offered me. HOW DARE SHE? I mean, really, if I put in that kind of effort, the law should require the chick to put out.
Please don’t let our low offer rate stop you from buying us drinks.
Maybe getting no-offered is a blessing in disguise for successful young law students, says one commenter:
I think “no offers” are a good thing. They build character, and god knows that law students need some more character. The more no offers the better, if you ask almost anyone in the know.
It’s not that law firms aren’t sympathetic towards their summers. When we discuss the state of the legal industry with our partner readers and sources, many of them express sentiments along these lines:
None of you will believe me, but I’m a partner at a V50 firm. What you all fail to grasp is the degree that work has slowed down. In actuality, it didn’t “slow” — it came to a complete stop last October and has not really picked up. We don’t see transactional work coming back for the next few years. Consequently, we can’t bring in new bodies.
I sincerely feel bad for all of you, but we are running a business.
In the career services office of one top ten law school, the staff members have adopted a change in terminology. They no longer refer to summer associates “getting” offers; rather, they refer to summer associates “earning” their offers. It’s a subtle but revealing shift in word choice.
In other words, a law student may have (a) a summer associate position and (b) a pulse, but that doesn’t mean she is entitled to an offer of full-time employment with that firm after graduation. Instead, the student should consider herself lucky to have been given a summer associate experience. In case you haven’t heard, there’s a brutal recession going on right now — and the legal world has been hit hard.
As we’ve said before, “[a] sense of entitlement is so 2006.” Maybe it’s time to refine that statement: the entitlement has shifted, from law students to law firms. These days, law firms are in the driver’s seat: they are entitled to make as many or as few offers as they please, based on their sound business judgments. (And sometimes, due to changed circumstances — e.g., the deterioration in the economy between summer 2008, when the last recruiting cycle started, and today — their judgments will reflect new realities.)
The primary loyalty of law firms should be to the full-time lawyers and staff members to whom they’ve already committed — not to a bunch of law students passing through for a few weeks. To quote Beyonce, “if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it” — and the jobs of associates already at the firm, who are wearing their metaphorical engagement rings, take priority over summer flings — er, summer associates.
To be sure, this isn’t the way things used to be; but it may be the way things are moving forward. When two people date for a few months, they don’t usually assume it’ll lead to marriage. It may be time to start thinking about the summer associate experience in a similar way.
Earlier: Are Some People Still Living in 2007? (Or: Some early speculation on bonuses.)