When firms' demand for top students exceeded the supply, as in 2006 and 2007, nearly a third of summer associates declined jobs to entertain more offers in their third year of law school, NALP's Leipold said. Now that the market for third-year students has disappeared, approximately 85 percent of summer associates accept their job offers, he noted.
"Now, when I offer summer associate positions to 10 students, I'm expecting all 10 to accept and stay," said Venuto. "I'm much happier with the way recruiting has been working out."
Before the recession, it was common for an associate to leave within a few years of joining a firm, Leipold said. That attrition has virtually evaporated.
OCI'S WANING IMPORTANCE
In this economic climate, firms are less patient as young lawyers gain experience and clout. Clients enjoy greater bargaining power after the recession, and many are unwilling to pay for work done by first- and second-year associates. And it's much easier to hire lateral associates, trained elsewhere, should the need arise.
Orrick's hiring of summer associates in the Bay Area is slowly rebounding with the economy, Venuto said, but summer associates account for a smaller share of the firm's new hires than in past years.
Wheeling, W.Va., is one place where Orrick's associates are growing in numbers, Venuto noted. The low cost of living there -- and the creation of a tier of nonpartner-track, low-salaried lawyers -- enables the firm to bill lower rates.
"Some companies don't want to pay for a first-year associate to do their work," he said. "But they will pay for a first-year in Wheeling to do it."
Clients' demands give firms all the more reason to prioritize lateral hires over organic growth. And students are feeling the strategy's effects.
Sari Zimmerman, assistant dean for the Office of Career and Professional Development at UC-Hastings, said about 20 percent of students find their jobs through the on-campus interview process today. Twice as many did at the peak of the market.