As was vividly demonstrated by our recent infographic, Biglaw’s summer associate classes have undergone a major and seemingly permanent contraction. For the most part, large — arguably bloated — summer associate classes are a thing of the past. Among the Am Law 50, only eight firms are bucking this downward trend, with actual increases in the size of their summer classes since 2007. These firms are a collection of Wall Street’s oldest and most elite white shoe mainstays: Sullivan & Cromwell, Cravath, Davis Polk, and their ilk. On average, these firms were founded 112 years ago (i.e., during the McKinley Administration). The outlier here is the relative upstart litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel, founded only back in 1987.
Besides the durability and strength that comes with such a refined pedigree, what other trends are apparent in this great downsizing of Biglaw’s summer associate classes?
Some further observations on the decline of the giant Biglaw summer associate class:
- Changes in summer associate class size by geographic region (based on a firm’s HQ or original location)
New York City: -22.5%
Ouch, Chicago. The aforementioned small group of firms experiencing growth in their summer classes are largely in New York, and would help account for the relatively smaller decrease there.
- Firms which are the product of a major merger within the last decade have seen a decrease of 47.25% in the size of their summer classes. This group includes K&L Gates, DLA Piper, Dentons, and Hogan Lovells.
- Practice area strength does seems to be a factor in the direction of a firm’s summer program, with firms noted for their litigation practices remaining more stable than their more corporate peers. Firms rated as “Band 1 (nationwide)” by Chambers for Corporate/M&A practice experienced a decrease of 34%. Firms in Chambers’ “Band 1 (nationwide)” for Litigation practice experienced a decrease of just 19%.
Though reduced in number, one thing still remains as true as it was in the halcyon days of the mid-aughts: summer associates are the happiest campers in all of Biglaw. Below is a comparison of ratings from the ATL Insider Survey, which asks respondents to evaluate how their firms are doing in terms of compensation, hours, morale, culture, and training. Unsurprisingly, when compared with full-time attorneys, summers give their firms decidedly higher marks on every count:
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