Biglaw, Job Searches, NALP, National Association for Law Placement (NALP), Summer Associates

Summer Associate Hiring Numbers Remain Anemic in 2012

‘But Dean Mitchell said I’d get a job!’

Despite rumors of impending layoffs, many people thought that 2012 would be the year that Biglaw would make its comeback after being dragged through the wringer of the recession. You’d think that Biglaw’s “solid performance” last year would’ve served as an indicator of its hiring needs, but as with most predictions having to do with Biglaw, you’d be wrong.

The numbers are in for the fall 2012 summer associate recruiting season, and they’re nothing to write home about. In fact, according to the latest National Association for Law Placement (NALP) report, the median and average numbers of summer offers made to 2Ls took a tumble.

In an uncertain economy, this depressing kind of recruitment activity may be the new normal for Biglaw….

Although many firms handed out offers of permanent employment like candy, this marks the fourth year that Biglaw firms have significantly scaled back their summer hiring, in general. Here’s more from NALP:

Law firms continue to bring in small summer classes, with median and average class size barely increasing from recession-era lows. Offer rates coming out of summer programs remained high, but fell by more than a point from the previous summer, and, perhaps not surprisingly, acceptance rates for those offers set another record for an historic high. For the fourth year in a row, few firms ventured back into the 3L market, and thus, students with offers from their summer program found few competing offers on the table.

That said, it seems that it’s back to business as usual in Biglaw — more cautious hiring amid even more puffery about firms’ excellent financial performance (read: single-digit profit increases) in a weak economy. Perhaps this would be better explained with a handy-dandy chart from NALP (click to enlarge):

Everything seemed to be going swell until we reached 2012, and that’s when things took a turn for the worse. “We have seen some faltering in recruiting volumes this past fall,” says James Leipold, NALP’s Executive Director, “and that reflects the continuing faltering in the larger legal economy.” Leipold went on to note that “law firms continue to be cautious about bringing in more lawyers than they can confidently keep busy.”

But what about all of the law school deans who are trying to convince incoming students that the legal job market will bounce back to pre-recession levels? Surely the information they’re relying on to make such claims must be sound. Leipold, ever the harbinger of doom, has these insights for the future of legal hiring:

“I would expect flat and faltering to be characteristics of the entry-level law firm hiring market going forward, at least for the short and even medium term. Multiple experts have made the case that the legal market is not likely to return to pre-2007 levels, and the recruiting environment reflects that reality.”

When it comes to the job search, the lesson to be learned is simple: listen to law deans’ advice at your peril.

Perspectives on Fall 2012 Law Student Recruiting [NALP]
Law Firm Recruiting Mostly Flat After Tumbling During Recession [NALP]
Summer associate hiring declines amid anemic legal market [National Law Journal]

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