Mark L. Silow, firmwide managing partner of Fox Rothschild, said his firm never stopped hiring associates to its corporate practice but did taper off its real estate associate hiring during the recession.
"With the downturn in real estate in 2008, we held off on filling entry-level positions in real estate," Silow said, but added that the firm is now seeing real estate work "come back nicely" and is looking to once again build up its associate ranks in that practice.
Silow said this year will mark the first time in four or five years that Fox Rothschild has brought aboard a first-year associate to its real estate practice.
According to Silow, it's still a "buyer's market" for firms looking to hire and train quality entry-level associates.
But for those associates who temporarily transitioned from corporate or real estate into another practice area such as litigation or bankruptcy or went to work in an entirely different field in 2008 or 2009, current law firm openings don't necessarily translate into job openings, recruiters have noted.
Maura McAnney of McAnney Esposito & Kraybill Associates in Pittsburgh said the rapid change in the law and in business gives a significant leg up to associates who are fully up to speed on the current status of the law in a certain practice area. Firms want associates who can hit the ground running, she said.
"You lose your marketability after a time," said Frank D'Amore of Attorney Career Catalysts in Haverford, Pa.
He has had requests from firms to fill acute needs in the corporate arena and the pool of talent from which to draw is just not as deep, D'Amore said. The other issue is that corporate associates who survived the recession are much more hesitant to switch firms out of a sense of loyalty to their current firm for sticking with them, he said.
Pittsburgh-based Lori Carpenter of Carpenter Legal Search said she thinks this problem of a lack of associates will only grow in the next year or so because there were a few classes of graduates that either went on to clerk or into public interest work, deepening even further the dearth of corporate lawyers in the market.
Firms looking for a fourth- or fifth-year associate to fill a specific client need may have trouble filling that spot because more senior lawyers wouldn't want to do that level of work and there aren't enough lawyers at the necessary level.