The current oversupply of new associates has sent law firms scrambling to implement short-term adjustments, such as secondments and deferrals. But the legal profession needs more than temporary half-measures. The new-associate recruitment market is fundamentally broken, and it has been for some time. Incremental changes are not going to address its underlying problems. The market needs a structural fix — a centralized matching authority, like the one that the medical profession has been using for more than half a century.
Firms make most of their new-associate offers to their summer interns. Thus, associate recruitment mostly happens at the intern-selection level. Summer internships operate as a bilateral matching market, in which law firms rank the candidates they interview and the candidates rank firms with which they wish to intern. The labor market “clears” in a decentralized manner. Law firms choose schools from which to interview, interested students at those schools apply to particular firms, the interviewing firms offer summer internship positions to specific students, and the students decide whether to accept the offers.
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