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Should on-campus recruiting at law schools be delayed until the spring? That question was a major topic of discussion during a June 24 roundtable on the future of legal hiring that brought together 19 law firm leaders, law school officials and general counsel in Washington. Many of participants agreed that it would make more sense to recruit in the spring rather than in the traditional late summer or early fall. Two central issues at the roundtable, hosted by the National Association for Law Placement, involved the effectiveness of the existing law firm recruitment model and how it is likely to evolve in the coming years. The timing of on-campus recruiting has emerged as one of the thornier issues facing the profession. For decades, law firms have filled their summer associate rosters by interviewing students on campus during the fall of their 2L year. But law schools have been pushing on-campus recruiting ever earlier in hopes of giving their students first crack at summer positions and to complete the process before classes start. On-campus recruiting in 2009 is slated for August at many schools — including the influential Harvard Law School. Several law firm leaders began grumbling this spring that they can no longer accurately predict their hiring needs two years into the future and that on-campus recruiting should be delayed until later in the school year. Thomas Leatherbury, hiring partner at Houston-based Vinson & Elkins, drafted a plan in April asking law schools to delay on-campus recruiting until early winter in 2010, but the plan drew a cool reception from law school leaders. Still, a number of those in attendance argued that delaying on-campus recruiting would have distinct benefits for firms and students alike. “No rational person would hire their people two years in advance if they had a choice,” said Howard Ellin, global hiring partner at New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “Clearly, getting it much closer to when the people are going to come to work would make a lot more sense.” Leatherbury stressed that the fall timetable for on-campus recruiting is only one of several problems with the existing recruiting model. “I don’t see a drastic elimination of summer program in large firms, but the timing of the program really troubles me, and it troubles me this year particularly,” he said. “And maybe that’s simply a short-term economic phenomenon, but with shortened summer programs, with [most] interviewing taking place in August, we’re at six schools on August 17th, six schools on August 26th — the logistics of it are very difficult.” Northwestern University School of Law Dean David Van Zandt agreed that on-campus recruiting should be moved to late winter or spring of the 2L year, although he added that law firms should develop a better model for selecting their summer associates. “It’s a model now where you just go out and throw a wide net and pull people in,” Van Zandt said. “And I’ve long advocated that that firms really need to look at their data…and identify the characteristics that they’re looking for in their candidates.” While several of the law school representative considered it feasible to move on-campus recruiting to the spring, they worried the move would create logistical problems. For one thing, classes would be in full swing. “It’s certainly not as desirable from a faculty standpoint, because the truth of the matter is that while students are in the midst of fall recruiting, that’s pretty much all they do,” said Susan Robinson, associate dean for career services at Stanford Law School. Moving on-campus recruiting from the fall to the spring wouldn’t alleviate the problems firms have with overlapping sessions at different schools, Robinson said. Heather Frattone, associate dean for career planning and placement at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, noted that business schools hold recruiting session in the spring, so law school should be able to manage the same thing. She worried, however, that the move would give career counselors less time to assist 2Ls who don’t receive summer offers from firms and want to secure some other legal position for the impending summer.

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