Biglaw, Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, Job Searches, Law Schools, National Association for Law Placement (NALP), Summer Associates

Is It Time to Revamp the NALP Rules?
(And: Another firm abandons the 45-day rule.)

NALP police NALP cops rules guidelines.jpg“There are no NALP police.”
James G. Leipold, Executive Director, NALP

Oh, but wouldn’t it be fun if there were? Let’s use our imaginations….
As the Bad Boys theme song plays in the background, a bespectacled Jim Leipold, accompanied by a gaggle of burly NALP goons, breaks down the door at 111 Huntington Avenue — the Boston offices of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge.
Leipold and his goons find the recruiting department like heat-seeking missiles, where they confront Katherine Kelly, EAPD’s recruiting director. The goons grab Kelly and turn her back towards Leipold.
Leipold handcuffs Kelly. “You are being arrested for your firm’s violation of Part V.C.1 of the NALP Principles and Standards,” he tells her. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to the managing partner of your law firm, as well as the right to blame the managing partner for your firm’s breach of the NALP rules. But don’t be surprised if you get hit with a stealth layoff after doing so.”

Bad firms, bad firms, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when NALP comes for you?
NALP, the Association for Legal Career Professionals (fka the National Association for Law Placement), promulgates “guidelines that offer an ethical framework for all participants in law student recruiting.” In past years, these guidelines were generally followed by law firms, schools, and students. This year, however, with the economy in the tank, things are… different.
Over the summer, uber-prestigious Sullivan & Cromwell tried to ditch the requirement that law firms give law students 45 days to weigh offers of summer employment. S&C ultimately backed down. But as reported in these pages earlier today, Edwards Angell has told law students receiving offers that they have three weeks to accept, “or until the summer class fills up” — whichever is earlier.
And EAPD isn’t the only firm that has decided to make offers with shorter fuses. Another firm is giving offerees two weeks to make up their minds.
More information, plus reflections on the NALP rules, after the jump.

Above the Law has confirmed that Dickstein Shapiro is giving law students receiving offers two weeks to decide (although it’s willing to work with students needing extra time). From the firm’s statement:

Dickstein Shapiro is very excited about our 2010 summer program and we have asked students to whom offers were extended to respond more quickly than in prior years. This decision allows us to appropriately manage our summer class size and give courtesy to other highly qualified applicants interested in summer associate positions. We recognize that a student who has been offered a position may require additional time to reach a decision and we have encouraged these students to work with us.

The desire of firms to discard the 45-day rule is understandable. Some time ago, well before the Edwards Angell and Dickstein Shapiro news, the chair of the recruiting committee at an Am Law 100 firm sent ATL this email:

You would be doing a service if you would begin a discussion of modifying the NALP rules for keeping offers open, at least for this coming year. For those firms that still intend to have a summer program in 2010, obviously almost all of us will want a much smaller program with much tighter control during the offer stage so that we don’t wind up over-subscribed; we simply can’t afford to wind up with summer programs twice as large as we have need for. Predicting yield this year will be even more of a crap shoot than it has been in the past, and it has never been easy.

This having been said, the current NALP rule that requires firms to keep offers open for 45 days will be unworkable for students and firms alike. Firms will be very hesitant to make more offers than they have spaces, fearing yields as high as 100%. To be conservative, they will then place most candidates on “wait lists” and simply make offers as they get declines. With each offer open for 45 days, the offer process could easily drag on for months.

Accordingly, law schools along with NALP, should either suspend the 45 day rule and allow firms to put as short a time frame as they want on offers, or allow firms to withdraw offers once their classes have been filled.

This email was sent to us weeks ago. What our correspondent hoped for has essentially happened, de facto if not de jure. We have heard anecdotally that numerous law firms, not just EAPD and Dickstein, are not abiding by the 45-day rule — and not getting into any trouble for it.
We reached to James Leipold at NALP for his take on this development. Leipold did not have any specific comment, but he did confirm NALP’s awareness that some firms are flouting the 45-day rule.
And is this really a problem? Maybe not. As we previously observed, “summers aren’t complaining [about violations of the 45-day rule]. The sources we spoke with had no problem making a decision about where to summer in three weeks.”
These kids are smart. As one top law school has told its students, “To provide employers with more certainty in managing their yields, we [strongly recommend that you] respond to offers within three weeks if at all possible.”
Given such advice, a firm stating that it won’t honor the 45-day rule might be comparable to an anticipatory breach (but without any damages) in the contracts context, or maybe like a case of harmless error in a criminal case. If student aren’t using the 45 days anyway, who is really harmed by firms not honoring the rule? To toss in another legal doctrine, does anyone have standing to complain about a violation?
“When we have an issue, we’ll deal with it,” one law school career services dean told us. But right now, because firms are making offers more slowly and students are accepting offers more quickly, shortened timetables for weighing offers have not yet become a problem. The issue is, in a sense, academic. “We will cross that bridge when we come to it,” said this dean.
Of course, if firms can ignore the NALP rules with impunity — law students can’t, which was the whole point of our recent satirical posts (offering the tongue-in-cheek advice that students turn the tables on firms by accepting all their offers) — then what’s the point of the NALP rules? Good question.
In defense of the NALP rules, it should be noted that they were helpful and effective for many years. But today some adjustment of the current recruiting model may be in order. “Now we need to make sure [the NALP guidelines] continue to work well, with all of the changes taking place in the legal hiring environment,” the career services dean told us.
To its credit, NALP and its member organizations are exploring many possibilities for restructuring the legal hiring process. NALP has established — what else? — a commission, formed to “engage in a holistic nationwide conversation” about the law firm recruiting model. To quote one of our favorite divas, “Let the conversation begin!”
As it turns out, the conversation has already begun. On September 28, The Future of Lawyer Hiring, Development & Advancement, a roundtable discussion participated in by a dozen leaders of the legal profession, took place in San Francisco. You can access a transcript of the very interesting discussion here (PDF). The panelists covered such topics as deferrals, rescinded job offers, how reputational concerns affect the recruiting process, whether the hiring process should be moved from the fall of 2L year to the spring, the 45-day rule (which one panelist called “insane”), whether a more structured hiring process should be implemented (perhaps similar to the medical school matching process), and even the viability of the summer associate program itself.
We are reminded of the Chinese proverb (which some call the Chinese curse): “May you live in interesting times.” These times are nothing if not interesting.
New NALP Commission to Examine Changes in Recruiting Process [Am Law Daily]
The Future of Lawyer Hiring, Development & Advancement [NALP]
Earlier: Edwards Angell Wants Responses to Offers in Three Weeks (or Less)
Harvard Law School to the Rescue

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