Third-year law students have been lamenting the unfortunate timing of their entry into the job market. Now they have some cold, hard numbers to quantify their woes.
The median number of offers by U.S. law firms for 2010 summer associate positions was seven, according to statistics released Tuesday by the National Association for Law Placement. That was down from 10 offers in 2008 and 15 offers in 2007.
In fact, the offer rate was the lowest NALP has reported since the organization began gathering offer statistics some 17 years ago.
Only 36 percent of interviews last year resulted in summer associate offers, compared to 47 percent in 2008 and 60 percent in 2007.
The falloff was even more dramatic for firms with 700 or more attorneys. Their median offer rate was 30 in 2007 but only eight in 2009. Given the scarcity of summer associate offers, perhaps it was not surprising that offer acceptance rates hit a historic high, 43 percent.
"This represents an enormous interruption in the usual recruiting and employment patterns that we have come to expect," said NALP Executive Director Jim Leipold. "I don't think anyone expects recruiting volumes to pick up significantly during 2010, though the worst does seem, we hope, to be behind us."
It wasn't just 2Ls hoping to snag a summer position who felt the recruiting pain in 2009. Offer rates to students who had completed a summer program in 2009 fell from 90 percent in 2008 to 69 percent last year -- again, the lowest offer rate since NALP began tracking those data in 1993. NALP reported that 3L hiring "all but dried up" last year. Only 10 of the 300 firms surveyed made offers to 3Ls in 2009.
Students who had already accepted job offers in 2008 with plans to begin working last fall were hit with significant start-date deferrals, NALP reported. More than 60 percent of those 2009 graduates who were slated to start working at large law firms were deferred. That translated into between 3,200 and 3,700 new attorneys whose start dates were delayed beyond Dec. 1.
Least likely to have imposed deferrals were smaller firms in the Southeast and Midwest, with a significantly higher numbers of deferred associates in New York. Approximately half of all deferred associates reported that they were working for pay or a stipend, with 44 percent working in a public interest setting.
"For the class of 2009, the largest impact was the deferral phenomenon," Leipold said. "By now, some of those who were deferred have actually started to work, but others remain deferred at this time."
The declining market for summer associates was painfully obvious on law schools campuses during the fall recruiting season. "Almost without exception, schools reported fewer employers on campus," the NALP report says.
More than half of the law schools reporting saw a decrease of 30 percent or more in the number of employers coming to their campuses in 2009 compared to 2008. Half of the employers reported reducing the number of schools they visited last year by 40 percent or more. One in five firms cancelled on-campus interviewing altogether last year.