"I've heard some career services professionals say that OCI is dying," said Indiana University's Henderson. "For schools outside the top tier, it is becoming a smaller and smaller avenue to place students."
Some firms seem to have forgotten that laterals have to get their start somewhere. Today, many law school graduates "aren't getting the chance to turn into midlevel associates," Henderson said. "It's going to cause law firms some pain in the future because they won't have the talent developed."
Opportunities have not dwindled for candidates at the top of their classes. The students with the highest GPAs at UC-Berkeley School of Law still receive eight to 10 offers for the summer, as they did before the recession, said Terrence Galligan, assistant dean of career development at UC-Berkeley.
"Even if the market were to shrink more, I don't think that would change," he said.
Galligan noted that he has heard some law firms discuss retooling recruitment to emphasize candidates' personalities. But that seems to be just talk for now.
Looking good on paper is as important today as ever. To cut costs in recent years, Littler Mendelson has limited its participation in on-campus recruitment at most law schools to resume collection, said Karen Herz, senior director for attorney development and recruiting.
The battle for talent forced firms to change their ways for a time. To reach their quotas for summer associates prior to the recession, firms recruited at law schools they had never visited before and reached further down into classes, Leipold noted. That is no longer necessary.
"They're able to go back to their bad habits," Leipold said.
That leaves a lot of would-be lawyers out in the cold.
Andre Krammer, a third-year student with a Ph.D in physics on a four-year track at Santa Clara University School of Law, said he saw the same small group of students at his interviews with various firms during on-campus recruiting. He said he was one of just a few of his friends who landed summer associate positions through the on-campus process.