In another blow to the job prospects of top law students, summer associate offer rates are down significantly at many big California firms.
That's down from an average of more than 90 percent in recent years at most firms. The Association for Legal Career Professionals (also known as NALP, the acronym of its former name) reported in February that in 2008, the summer offer rate dipped to its lowest rate since 2003 -- to 90 percent.
Firms that were still in the 90s this year include Latham & Watkins and Morrison & Foerster, while Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; and Nixon Peabody dipped below 80 percent.
The trend is a double blow to students, after a summer in which firms invited 30 to 50 percent fewer students to join their programs.
Sari Zimmerman, director of the Office of Career and Professional Development at Hastings College of the Law, said students are feeling less stigmatized by a rejection this year than in the past since it's happening to so many people.
She also said she hopes it portends a trend toward a shorter hiring pipeline.
"This is very possibly the first sign of a new trend, which is interviewing that takes place closer to the actual hiring," Zimmerman said. "The upside is that firms could have a better sense of true needs, rather than having to anticipate so far in advance. So a lot of these changes could very well be for the better."
Robert Depew, managing director of Major, Lindsey & Africa's San Francisco office, said in the past, the major hurdle for law students was obtaining a summer associate offer with a reputable firm, not getting an offer of full-time employment at the end of the summer. This year, firms have raised the bar, and even smart and polished associates won't make the cut.
"In years past, every summer associate was essentially guaranteed an offer unless he or she completely dropped the ball on work projects or totally shocked decision makers with abhorrent social behavior," Depew said. "In fact, most firms maintained a tradition of going to extraordinary lengths to ensure 100 percent offer rates wherever possible. And the failure to obtain an offer at the end of the summer was a professional 'kiss of death' for law students."
Among the firms with the highest offer rates are Morrison & Foerster at 97 percent firmwide, Latham at 92 percent, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati at 85 percent. In the Bay Area, MoFo offered 96 percent of summer associates jobs, while Wilson extended offers to 91 percent. Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton was at 79 percent firmwide, and offered jobs to two of five in San Francisco, or 40 percent. Latham declined to break down its numbers by office.
Paul Hastings said its firmwide offer rate is between 70 percent to 75 percent. Orrick said its firmwide rate will be between 70 percent and 80 percent. Both declined to specify Bay Area numbers. An Orrick spokesman said the firm cut back on this year's fall recruiting so it could make as many offers as possible to this year's summers.
Nixon Peabody said its offer rate was 62 percent firmwide, while in San Francisco, 58 percent received offers.
O'Melveny & Myers declined to give any percentage, and a spokeswoman said only that a "vast majority of our summer associates got offers." DLA Piper and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman said their offer process is not yet complete.