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The rise and fall of recruiting levels at U.S. law firms continues to be one of the markers that the industry looks at to gauge the relative strength of the legal economy. With increased legal economic activity, law firm recruiting levels tend to rise. At the close of 2005, consistent with other economic indicators, law firms were recruiting entry-level and lateral attorneys at a brisk pace. Data from NALP-formerly the National Association for Law Placement-confirm that while entry-level legal hiring has not regained the strength of the late 1990s, the market for entry-level employment continues to gain strength. Similarly, the rate of lateral hiring increased steadily in 2004 and 2005, with firms in the aggregate now hiring more lateral than entry-level attorneys. While the legal economy and legal recruiting tend to follow the rise and fall of the national economy, there are some elements of the current cycle that set it apart from previous rises in the market. As a service to its members and the legal profession, NALP collects and reports a variety of data on an annual basis, including the number of new attorneys hired, the number of attorneys a firm anticipates hiring in the coming year, information about the level of employer recruiting activity on law school campuses, employer and school participation in job fairs, and outcomes of summer programs and fall recruiting. Nearly all of these markers posted gains from 2004 to 2005. Consider entry-level hiring trends, for example. Simultaneous with rising partnership profits and associate salaries, firms in general have been bringing in larger summer associate classes in an attempt to staff up for additional work-all signs of a healthy legal economy. With an average of 12 summer associates per office nationwide, the average size of summer programs in 2005 was the largest it has been since 2001, and is up from 11 in 2004 and 10 in 2003. See NALP Perspectives on Fall 2005 Law Student Recruiting, at www.nalp.org/assets/219_fall2005.pdf. The same report shows that the average number of offers made by employers to 2Ls for summer positions rose for the fourth year in a row. For the second year in a row, more than 90% of all summer associates received an offer for full-time employment from their summer employer. The yield on those offers has been relatively steady nationwide, with 73% accepting them in 2005, and 72% in 2004. The size of summer classes and the number of offers extended varied tremendously by region and by firm size, with summer class sizes in the Northeast being larger than elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the cities with the largest summer programs in 2005 were New York, with an average of 25; Los Angeles, with an average of 19; Chicago and Dallas, with an average of 18 each; and Atlanta, with an average of 17. Offer rates also varied by city and region, with more than 99% of summer associates in New York receiving offers of full-time employment-a rate that contrasts sharply with a city like Dallas, where fewer than 80% of summer associates received an offer of full-time employment in 2005. With this increased economic activity, there has been increased recruiting activity for 2Ls for this coming summer’s programs, with more offers being made than last year. For the class of 2007, 60% of all call-back interviews resulted in an offer for summer employment. This was the highest offer rate since 2000, and was up sharply from 2001 and 2002, when the offer rate hovered around 50%. Also consistent with this increase in competition, the number of employers recruiting 3Ls jumped measurably, with 42% of all employers reporting that they were actively recruiting 3Ls. This in turn was a big jump from 2002, when fewer than a quarter of employers reported seeking 3L recruits. On-campus recruiting In another measure of the resources currently being devoted to recruiting, recruitment activity by law firms on law school campuses this past fall, as reported by law schools, was also more robust than last year, with 78% of the schools that provided data reporting that the number of employers on campus was either up or unchanged, and only 22% reporting a decrease of 5% or more. These numbers reflect a marked difference from the years during recent economic downturns, when most schools were noting a decrease. The low benchmark year was 1992, when 92% of the schools reported a decrease of 5% or more. More recently, in 2002 53% of the schools reported a decrease of 5% or more. There were, of course, regional differences in recruiting levels, and this year the big winners were the law schools in the West/Rocky Mountains region, 81% of which reported an increase in employer numbers of 5% or more. NALP also asks firms to report on their campus recruitment activity. This year, more firms nationally reported an increase in the number of campuses visited than in the previous three years. The trend held across the board, with virtually 75% of the firms in every region reporting either an increase or no change in the number of schools visited in 2005. This was in marked contrast to the reported level of school visits during times of economic constriction, such as 1992, when more than half of all firms reported a decrease in the number of campus visits. Driving the growth in activity at all levels of recruiting, in addition to the relative strengthening of the legal economy, was the rising attrition rate for associates at firms of every size and in every market. A 2005 study by the NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education found a cumulative annual rate of attrition of 19%. This was the highest rate ever documented, with nearly 80% of all associates leaving by the end of the fifth year. See “Toward Effective Management of Associate Mobility: A Status Report on Attrition,” (2005) NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education, available at www.nalpfoundation.org. While this aggregate attrition rate was very high, in some segments of the market it was even higher. For firms of 100 attorneys or fewer, for example, attrition beyond the third year was higher for minority women than for any other group of entry-level associates, escalating to nearly 100% within five years of being hired. With the jump in legal economic activity, associates have found greater mobility, fueling the need to recruit more laterals. Recently released data from NALP reveal that lateral hiring continues at a strong pace. Following a jump of 14% from 2003 to 2004, overall lateral hiring increased by an additional 19% in 2005. “Patterns and Practices: Measures of Law Firm Hiring, Leverage, & Billable Hours (NALP, March 2006), available at www.nalp.org. Firms of more than 500 lawyers collectively reported the biggest increase in lateral hiring, measured at almost 25%. In contrast, for firms of 251 to 500 lawyers, the increase was about half that, and at the smallest firms, lateral hiring was nearly flat in 2005. See www.nalp.org/ content/index.php?pid=367. Nationally, the average number of lateral attorneys hired in 2005 was 12, and the median was seven. For firms of more than 500 lawyers, the average number of lateral attorneys hired in 2005 was 16, and the median was 10; for firms with 251 to 500 lawyers, the average was 15 and the median was also 10; for firms with 101 to 250 attorneys, the average was 12 and the median was 11; for firms of 51 to 100 lawyers, the average was seven and the median was six; and for the smallest firms of 50 or fewer attorneys, the average and the median were both two. Of course, these aggregate national increases do not mean that every office or every firm is hiring large numbers of laterals. In fact, one-third of offices reported a decrease of more than 10%. At the regional level, the largest increase, more than one-third, was reported from the Northeast. This increase was largely fueled by an increase of almost 52% in Boston and an increase of 39% in New York. Lateral hiring in the Mid-Atlantic region was up by 25%, with firms in Pittsburgh and Washington posting the largest aggregate increases. Lateral hiring increased much more modestly in the Midwest and West/Rocky Mountains regions. Reaching out earlier Certainly, law firms are devoting increased resources to diversity recruiting, in particular at this time, driven in part by the continued insistence by clients that firms make measurable progress in this area. At an NALP-sponsored diversity summit in Chicago in March, representatives from both law firms and client-side corporations came together to talk about the many innovative approaches that firms are taking to address this challenge. NALP has seen firms increasingly reach out to students earlier, often in or before their first year of law school, in an attempt to make a meaningful connection with individual candidates sooner than they have in the past. Another change in the recruiting world has been the trend toward earlier interviewing on campus. While not a new phenomenon, more schools, often seeking a competitive advantage, are hosting their on-campus interview programs in August, with many starting as early as the second week of August. This phenomenon has brought increased pressure on law firm recruiters, who are still managing the current summer program while simultaneously on the road recruiting for the following year’s program. With the arrival of a younger generation of lawyers who are making greater work-life balance demands right from the start, law firms are finding new ways to appeal to recent law school graduates, including highlighting pro bono programs during the recruiting process. Law firms also are pouring more resources into training, and recruits have begun to pay serious attention to the training programs firms offer when they consider various offers. In trying to communicate effectively and efficiently with today’s law school students, recruiters increasingly are making greater use of technology, including more sophisticated and interactive Web sites, online interview scheduling resources and much more frequent e-mail contact among recruiters, recruits and practicing lawyers. Recruiter pay, status rise In general, there has been a dramatic professionalization of law firm recruiting departments in the last 15 years. This can be measured in a variety of ways, including the dramatic jump in the number of recruiting professionals who now hold a juris doctorate degree-20% overall, compared with just 4% a decade ago. The rate is even higher among those newest to the profession, with nearly 30% of those who have been in the profession for two years or less reporting that they hold a J.D. degree. See www.nalp.org/content/index.php?pid=163. Salaries and titles for recruitment professionals have changed dramatically. The median salary for the primary officewide recruitment professional was $77,500 in 2004, up from $48,000 in 1996. Similarly, while 15 years ago the job title for the primary officewide recruitment professional was often “recruitment coordinator” or “recruitment administrator,” that title is now much more likely to be “director” or “manager” of recruiting. As the sophistication and professionalization of law firm recruiting continues to grow, many in the field have found themselves in increasingly specialized roles. Legal career professionals who long have filled traditional recruiting roles now are taking on responsibility for lawyer professional development programs, diversity initiatives and lawyer career counseling. Similarly, on the law school side, career services professionals are playing an increased role in providing professional development training to prepare students for the practice of law, and often are taking a primary role in judicial clerkship advising and pro bono initiatives. James G. Leipold is executive director of NALP, a Washington-based nonprofit educational association founded in 1971 to meet the needs of all participants in the legal-employment process. More information is available at www.nalp.org.

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