As if law students needed another reminder of the dim job market for young lawyers, a career counseling association has published numbers provided by law firms and other employers regarding 2009 summer associate offers and expectations for 2010 summer programs. And not surprisingly, the picture isn't pretty.
When looking at all offices of Pennsylvania firms and those firms with an office in the state, 54 percent of 2009 summer associates were given offers for full-time employment, according to a review by The Legal Intelligencer of numbers those firms provided to the National Association for Law Placement, or NALP. There will be even fewer summer associates in 2010 to vie for a chance at those increasingly hard-to-attain job offers. The state's firms said they anticipate having 194 summer associates in 2010, compared to 465 in 2009. That is a difference of 58 percent.
It should be noted that Morgan Lewis & Bockius and Ballard Spahr have said they won't have summer programs in 2010, which does skew the numbers to a degree. When taking those two firms out of the equation, firms had 331 summer associates in 2009, which would equal a 41 percent dip in the number of summer associates year over year.
But it can't be ignored that several summer associate spots disappeared from two large firms, even if only for a year.
In perhaps a glimmer of good news, the number of entry-level lawyers Pennsylvania firms plan to bring on in 2010 jumped 44 percent from 195 entry-level attorneys to 281 in 2010, a review of the firms' reports shows. That number is clouded, however, by the fact that many of the 2010 starting associates were deferred from their original 2009 start dates.
Though the 2010 summer programs are still a few months away, law schools are already gearing up for this fall's recruiting season for 2011 summer programs.
Melissa Lennon, assistant dean for career planning at Temple University's Beasley School of Law, said she is in the midst of interview training sessions, but she is being blunt with her students about opportunities in the large firm sector.
"My message to students is they really can't count on this at all," she said, adding that they should have "zero" expectations going into these interviews.
If things work out, "terrific," she said, but gone are the days where students can study hard, make law review and expect to automatically get a summer gig at a big firm.
While Lennon said she doesn't think the profession or summer class sizes will ever go back to the way they were in 2007, she said she is happy to see that both Morgan Lewis and Ballard Spahr have signed up for recruiting this fall after a year absence. Other smaller firms that had taken a year off are also signing up again, she said.
"I don't think we'll see a return to these huge classes, but at least more firms are at the table," Lennon said.
NALP took a lot of heat in the last few months over its proposed changes to the recruiting season in the face of law firm complaints that they had to make predictions about hiring needs nearly two years in advance.
The ultimate change that NALP instituted was a move from a 45-day period for students to accept offers of summer placements to a 28-day rolling period from the time of an offer.
Lennon said she thinks the new guidelines will really sharpen students' focus because they have a short time to make a decision. And if they don't get an offer, they can more quickly move to Plan B.
Firms will still look to manage their yields and Lennon said hopefully the competition to get good talent signed on quickly will have them giving offers more quickly.
While the reality is a tough one short-term, Lennon said some of the old hiring practices may have contributed to a lot of the problems firms faced in this recession. She said she would rather see smaller summer classes than none at all.
NOT NONE, JUST SOME
In looking at some of the Pittsburgh-based firms that reported to NALP, many plan to have half or fewer 2Ls in 2010 compared to 2009.
Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney had eight 2Ls last year and predicts two this year. Jones Day had six last year in Pittsburgh and will have three 2Ls in 2010. In the offices where K&L Gates held summer programs across the firm, they had 53 2Ls in 2009 and are planning on 31 in 2010. Reed Smith is moving from 43 to 20 firmwide. Thorp Reed & Armstrong is holding steady with two 2Ls for last year and this year. Cohen & Grigsby didn't have any either year. Babst Calland Clements & Zomnir will increase its class size with four 2Ls in 2010 compared to two last year.
Moving across the state, Blank Rome is moving from 23 2Ls to 11, and Dechert is going from 70 2Ls to 35. Woodcock Washburn had nine 2Ls last year and didn't list anything for how many it plans to have this year. McNees Wallace & Nurick will have five 2Ls compared to the seven it had in 2009, Drinker Biddle & Reath will move from 37 to 24 and Duane Morris will go from 15 to eight 2Ls in 2010.
CLOSER LOOK AT 2009 OFFERS
The percentage of offers Pennsylvania firms made to their 2009 summers range from as little as 29 percent for Morgan Lewis to as high as 83 percent for White & Williams, with five out of their six summers getting offers.
Cozen O'Connor gave offers to 77 percent of its 2009 summer associates and Ballard Spahr gave offers to 69 percent of its class. Like Morgan Lewis, Ballard Spahr's offers were deferred for a year.
Four of the seven Cohen & Grigsby summers, or 57 percent, received offers. Buchanan Ingersoll gave offers to 50 percent of its class, as did Thorp Reed and Pepper Hamilton.
Blank Rome gave 52 percent of its summer associates offers in 2009, Drinker Biddle gave 68 percent of the class offers and Fox Rothschild gave 70 percent of the class offers.
After deferring decisions for one half of its 2009 summer class on whether to give offers, Dechert ultimately gave offers to 61 percent of the entire class. Jones Day gave offers to 63 percent of its summers, K&L Gates gave 60 percent offers and McNees Wallace gave 43 percent of its class offers.
Reed Smith offered jobs to 47 percent of its summer class, Saul Ewing gave 33 percent of the class offers, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis gave 60 percent of its summer class positions, Woodcock Washburn gave 67 percent of the class offers, as did Babst Calland. Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young offered jobs to 63 percent of its summer class.