Start Dates

Remember: Biglaw’s a marathon, not a sprint.

It has been a while since we covered the subject of associate start dates at major law firms — mainly because there hasn’t been much news on this front. When we looked into the topic last year, we learned that about 90 percent of firms were starting their associate classes in the fall, a fairly standard timeline.

Are things different this year? We recently heard a report of one firm starting its associates in January. Is it 2010 all over again?

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“Aaaaaand they’re off!”

Notwithstanding predictions of impending economic gloom or apocalyptic Mayan prophecies, 2012 brings some sort-of good news for incoming first-year associates: our survey findings show start dates have returned to pre-Recession timelines. We’re apparently (knock wood) past the days of first-years twisting in the wind with deferrals and rescinded offers. On the other hand, a majority of our survey respondents report that the size of the incoming first-year class has contracted significantly, with only 36% of you telling us that class sizes have returned to pre-Recession levels. For the full results of our survey, read on.

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Some people in the class of 2010 will see this before they see a job.

Don’t look now, but in a few weeks, on-campus interviewing will get started on law school campuses across the country. That’s right — in about a month, law firms will start interviewing people they think they’ll have work for in the fall of 2013. I don’t know where the north pole will be in fall 2013, but law firms are supposed to know how many junior associates they’ll need more than two years from now?

Was this system designed by Nostradamus?

Under this employment system, there are winners and there are losers. Most of the people in the class of 2011 who have contacted us about their start dates have reported that they’ll be starting their Biglaw careers on time in the fall of 2011. That is good news. But even though we’ve moved far from the worst of the recession, there are still firms that are deferring their incoming classes.

In fact, at one firm, some members of the class of 2011 will be starting before members of the class of 2010…

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We have recently covered a number of notable partner departures from O’Melveny & Myers. While some of the losses were “not undesired,” as one source put it, others were bad news for OMM.

But, in fairness to the firm, there is good news coming out of O’Melveny these days as well. Let’s discuss some of it.

First, OMM has responded to some of the partner departures with fresh leadership. Firm chairman A.B. Culvahouse remains at the helm of the ship, but several practice groups now have new heads. As recently reported by Am Law Daily, Steven Tonsfeldt is the new leader of the M&A practice group, C. Brophy Christensen and Eric Reimer will take over the corporate finance/capital markets group, and Robert Rizzi will head the tax group. Congratulations to all of them on their new posts.

Second, OMM is busy — so busy that it is calling up some of its incoming associates and asking them to come in earlier. These associates were originally given start dates in December 2011 but are now wanted in the early fall.

(By the way, we are working on a story for next week about start dates at major law firms. Feel free to send us info about your firm if you have any.)

So what specific start dates are O’Melveny’s incoming associates being offered now, and how do they feel about the change?

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A couple of weeks ago, we asked for information about start dates at large law firms. The class of 2011 keeps peppering us with emails about when they can show up for work.

Happily, we’ve been hearing that most Biglaw firms will have their incoming classes start on time, in September or October. Most of the information in the comments to our open thread reflects that news as well. The most prestigious firms seem to be starting on time. Cravath, Sullivan & Cromwell, Davis Polk, Kirkland & Ellis, and firms of that ilk will be welcoming the class of 2011 in the fall of 2011.

But our tipsters do report some notable exceptions….

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During the height of the recession in 2008 and 2009, pushing back start dates was all the rage. Biglaw firms got really creative about when they’d allow people to show up for work.

Now you’re not going to believe this, but it turns out that refusing to let people show up for work created other problems. The deferrals created a backlog of associates that Biglaw has been trying to absorb ever since. At some firms, there are still people who were supposed to be part of the class of 2010 who are waiting to start. At DLA Piper, for instance, some associates in the class of 2010 won’t be able to start until January 2012.

So where does that leave the class of 2011? If you are lucky enough to have a Biglaw job lined up for after graduation, will you be able to start on time? With a few notable exceptions, last year took us back closer to start date normalcy.

Early indications suggest that 2011 will continue that trend….

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This was bound to happen at some point. There have been countless associates who were promised jobs at law firms. They stopped looking for other jobs in reliance on that job offer. Then during the recession they were deferred, or their offers were rescinded. They are the leading citizens of the Lost Generation.

Do they have any legal claims against their would-be employers?

Almost certainly not, but it looks like somebody is ready to try to find out. The ABA Journal reports:

A would-be associate has sued San Francisco law firm Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin for deferring and then rescinding her job offer.

A clean test case on the issue of offer rescission? Not quite. As with most things, there’s a racial angle…

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DLA Piper recently rejoined the ranks of Biglaw firms paying a $160,000 starting salary. Welcome back to the pack. Unfortunately, some incoming associates hoping to start at DLA will have to wait quite a bit before they are able to cash in on that $160K dream. A tipster reports:

DLA Piper just told their incoming first years (i.e., the people who graduated in May 2010) about their start dates. A few months ago they told everyone that they’d either be starting in January 2011 or January 2012, but didn’t state who would be starting when, how many people they expected to start on either date, or any other specific information.

They made the calls [yesterday] and almost everyone is deferred until January 2012. They said they “expected” to give a stipend of $5k a month for pro bono work but didn’t definitively confirm anything.

Well, DLA Piper has now provided information about the situation to Above the Law. All of these kids — who summered with DLA Piper in 2009 — knew there was a possibility of getting deferred until 2012. But only half of them actually will. The rest will start relatively on-time…

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Shearman & Sterling is setting off some fireworks at the start of this Fourth of July weekend. It sent out a memo this morning to its deferred associates from 2009. (Remember them? They got $65,000 last year if they volunteered to go away until September 2010.)

The deferred associates expected a letter two months ago telling them about their practice groups and start dates, as well as $15,000 salary advance checks starting on June 15th. Those dates passed with no information or money. Today, the firm finally contacted them.

It has announced the start dates for these folks and they’re not in 2010. A Shearman tipster sent along the memo noting:

Here is the text from the just received memo that is f***ing me over… I am so pissed that I can’t really talk about it right now.

So what’s the deal?

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Baker & McKenzie’s incoming class of 2009 can no longer fool themselves. If they haven’t started at the firm by now, they are never going to start.

Back in September, we reported that 12 of the 18 members of the 2009 Baker & McKenzie class still waiting to start had been re-deferred until June. At the time, Baker gave these people an ominous warning (emphasis added):

Starting in January, 5k stipend plus benefits for up to six months. at ANY time during six months, MAY get a call from b&m, have 1-2 weeks to report to work, but absent a major bump in work, not likely to happen. If after June, no call from b&m, “the relationship will end.”

Well, it’s June, and it appears that the relationship between Baker & McKenzie and 11 of the 12 re-deferred incoming associates has, in fact, ended…

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