On-campus recruiting picked up slightly at law schools last fall, but that didn’t translate into major summer clerk hiring gains, according to data released on March 7 by the National Association for Law Placement.

The average summer associate class size remained at eight — matching the previous year’s historic low. The median class size increased by just one summer clerk — from four in 2011 to five in 2012.

Summer associate offer rates ticked up modestly, from 40.6 percent in fall 2010 to 46.4 percent in 2011 for students interviewed by firms. But that figure was dwarfed by the 60 percent offer rate in 2007.

Relatively small summer associate classes indicate that firms don’t plan to boost new associate hiring through at least 2013, since firms attempt to project their hiring needs nearly two years in advance.

This year’s recruiting landscape may well represent a new norm, said NALP Executive Director Jim Leipold.

“This is not a hot recruiting market, but this sort of modest growth may well represent the best we can hope for with year-on-year comparisons going forward,” he said. “I would anticipate volatility in the recruiting market for some time. For instance, 2012 is off to a slow start economically for law firms, and we may see that reflected in the recruiting numbers this August.”

On a brighter note, law firms spent more time on-campus looking for summer hires, according to NALP’s figures. They still didn’t recruit as much as they did before the 2008 recession, however.

Firms did offer a higher percentage of callback interviews to prospective summer associate hires last fall, and the median number of summer offers extended by firms rose slightly, from nine to 10. However, that figure lags significantly behind the pre-recession median of 16 offers.

Smaller summer associate class sizes appear to have allowed firms to extend permanent job offers to the vast majority of summer associates — something they did not do in 2009, when they had committed to large summer classes but saw demand for legal services slow with the recession.

For members of the law school class of 2012 who completed summer clerkships at law firms last year, 91.4 percent received permanent job offers from those firms — the second-highest offer rate ever recorded by NALP. Of those receiving permanent job offers, 85 percent accepted.

There was not much demand by firms to hire 3Ls. Just 18 percent of firms reported that they returned to the recruiting market last fall to find 3Ls to hire permanently. Those recruiting efforts resulted in just 138 job offers.

NALP noted that with smaller summer class sizes seemingly the new status quo, students will have to contend with greater competition for the available law firms clerk slots for the foreseeable future.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.