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After fielding complaints from a number of large law firms, a task force at the National Association for Law Placement has recommended shortening the time in which law students have to respond to employment offers. The move comes after many firms complained that top students were holding on to multiple offers until the final days of the recruiting season, in the process freezing firms from making additional offers to a second tier of students. NALP’s recommended timing guideline changes came after a task force elicited and received comments from law firms and law schools at the completion of the recruiting season Dec. 1. The feedback included concerns regarding the lengthening fall recruiting season and the extended period in which students hold offers. The timing guideline task force recommended two changes while rejecting the concept of having rolling deadlines for students to respond to offers. The NALP board of directors will consider the following alterations to the timing guidelines on Feb. 21, and, if they are approved, they will be implemented for the upcoming fall recruiting season on a one-year trial basis: Revising the existing provision concerning the release of employment offers so students can hold no more than five offers by Sept. 15, four by Oct. 1 and three by Oct. 15. The existing guidelines allow students to hold a maximum of four offers by Oct. 15 and three offers by Nov. 1. Establishing a Nov. 1 deadline for all job offers made before Sept. 15 unless the student opts for a monthlong extension in writing to the firms and provides assurances that he or she is holding no more than three offers during that extension period. Third-year students who seek such an extension must provide assurances that they are holding no more than one other offer. NALP acting executive director Jerry Nash said that moving up the offer response deadlines was a modest but positive recommendation brought about in response to concerns expressed by employers who felt that students were holding too many offers late in the season. “[Law firms] said it was making it difficult to predict their yield,” Nash said. “There is also the problem of schools scheduling early interviews, which compounds the first problem when students get early offers and hold them up until the deadline. So I think this will help firms better predict their yield and free up the wait list of students.” Pepper Hamilton hiring partner Paul Kennedy said the changes were good for both the students holding the offers and those waiting to receive formal offers. “With so many schools now bringing employers on campus early, August is compressed as it is,” Kennedy said. “With so many of our people taking vacation at that point, it can be tough to staff all of these on campus visits. And I think the recommendation will help us by shortening the season a bit and the students by allowing them to focus on offers sooner while opening things up for their colleagues.” Dechert co-hiring partner Steve McConnell said he did not have a problem with the existing rules. “We made offers to people that we thought were good,” McConnell said. “Students are good about calling and keeping us informed as the different deadlines approach. And we always wind up with a good group of people in the end.” The task force also discussed the possibility of creating a rolling deadline provision for students holding job offers, allowing only a limited amount of time to accept or decline an offer. NALP officials said such a provision would eliminate the advantages of the Dec. 1 deadline. Specifically, NALP officials said it would force students to respond to offers — likely from large firms making offers early in the recruiting season — before they could complete the process with other employers such as small firms, government agencies and public interest entities. It would also disadvantage those employers because they would not have an opportunity to recruit students who had accepted offers from the large firms, NALP officials said. In addition, NALP officials argued that a rolling deadline provision would increase the incentive for schools to schedule early interview programs and for employers to participate in these programs, thereby lengthening the recruiting season. Drinker Biddle & Reath hiring partner Bill Clark advocates some sort of rolling deadline provision. He said he did not think the recommended changes would have much of an impact. “It still favors law schools and the top students,” Clark said. “And it still puts other students at a disadvantage. The rolling concept I would like to see is one that allows students to hold offers past deadline if the employer knows the student has a limited number of other offers open. The way it is now, it makes it much more difficult to gauge your chances if the student has offers from two or three other firms.” Elaine Petrossian, Villanova University School of Law’s assistant dean for career planning, said the vast majority of students are not hoarding offers. “My feeling is that the vast majority of large firms treat the Dec. 1 deadline as a sort of cliff over which they fall and all recruiting stops, regardless if they got the yield they wanted,” Petrossian said. “The solution is not to change the deadline. It’s to use the time proactively to address any yield concerns. … There are still good students out there after the deadlines pass.” Nash said the task force also discussed the possibility of expanding a provision in the existing guidelines that makes employers with 40 or fewer attorneys exempt from the provisions allowing students until Dec. 1 to accept offers. Such employers are expected to leave offers open for at least three weeks. But the task force decided that expanding the exemption to include smaller branch offices of large firms would disadvantage many students and employers. Students would be forced to accept offers from these offices before they could complete the recruitment process with other employers, who would be similarly disadvantaged because they would not have the opportunity to recruit these students. Steve Ball, director of career planning at Rutgers University School of Law-Camden, said students began to receive offers earlier during the fall 2000 recruiting season. When the economy tanked, students began accepting offers at a higher percentage, greatly affecting the yield of some firms. So many firms, unwilling to endure a reputation for not making offers to all of their summer associates, decided to be more conservative with the number of offers extended. But with so many students sitting on offers right up to the final deadline, Ball said firms began to complain about the elongated season, and the NALP swung into action with its task force. As if the fall weren’t packed enough with interviews, 2003 marked the first year that federal judges conducted their recruiting season in the fall of a law student’s third year. The judges had previously conducted interviews and extended offers during a student’s second year, but Edward Becker, senior judge for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, led the charge to move that process to the fall, allowing judges to evaluate richer resumes. Ball said many firms liked the old process because they would know in advance which members of their summer associate class had committed to clerking for federal judges after graduating. “Now a lot of students aren’t making decisions on offers until they finish interviewing for federal clerkships,” Ball said. “And a lot of the judges are not happy because when they interviewed students [during their second year of law school], they had a better chance of getting the top ones. Now some judges feel like students jump at the firm offers, basically shrinking the talent pool.” Three federal judges, Becker and U.S. District Judges Anita Brody and Berle Schiller, all said they had been pleased with the change. They said it is easier to evaluate resumes of 3Ls than those of 2Ls. Next year, judges will have a two-week reading period starting after Labor Day to review resumes and set up interviews. Schiller said that was done to help alleviate the onslaught of resumes to the federal courthouse at the end of the summer.

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