The law firm summer associate hiring market looks to be cooling off.
Summer associate hiring held steady in 2016, according to the latest data from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), ending two consecutive years of growth.
Some firms increased the number of offers they extended to law students for summer associate positions, but half said they made fewer offers than in 2015, the first time in four years that a majority reduced offers.
“After a period of considerable volatility marked first by a prolonged slowdown in law student recruiting volumes following the recession and then a rapid escalation in recruiting volumes for two years running, we have seen the recruiting market stabilize this year,” said NALP Executive Director James Leipold. “Recruiting volumes remain at a high level, but the numbers were mostly flat compared to last year, and in some cases we saw some contractions, suggesting that the most recent period of growth has ended, or at the very least slowed.”
It’s unclear whether the move last summer to $180,000 starting salaries for new associates at many major firms contributed to the decision of firms to hold the line on summer associate hiring, Leipold said. Citi Private Bank reported earlier this month that law firm growth slowed in 2016.
According to NALP, the median number of summer associate offers extended by firms declined slightly to 11.5 from 12. That’s less than the pre-recession median of 15 in 2007, yet significantly more than the median of 7 from the nadir of the recession in 2009. The average number of offers in 2016 remained steady at 38.
The overall offer rate among firms to summer associates for full-time associate jobs following graduation fell slightly last summer, from 95.3 percent to 94.6 percent. Washington and Miami emerged as particularly weak markets in terms of associate job offers, each reported offer rates below 90 percent, as did firms of 500 or fewer lawyers.
Recruiting of third-year law students declined slightly, with 18 percent of law offices reporting that they returned to the market to hire those soon-to-graduate students. That figure compared to 23 percent of offices recruiting third-year students in 2015.
Despite the ho-hum numbers, competition for top law student prospects remains fierce, especially in New York, NALP found. The number of law firms recruiting summer associates before the traditional on-campus interview process in August increased. Nearly 29 percent of firms reported extending offers to students prior to on-campus interviews (OCI), a trend that emerged several years ago and is gaining momentum as firms jockey to reach the most desirable candidates first. The practice appears somewhat effective: 39 percent of the students who received those pre-OCI offers accepted, compared to 33 percent overall.
“From the 30,000-foot level it is clear that law firms continue to face pressure to carefully evaluate lawyer staffing levels at every juncture,” Leipold said. “At the same time, law school graduating class sizes will continue to shrink through at least 2019, leaving fewer students competing for the remaining jobs.”
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ.