On-campus interviewing — or OCI — doesn’t quite pack the punch it used to. Fewer than 13 percent of new permanent law graduate jobs in 2011 were obtained through the annual fall whirl of law firm summer-associate recruiting. That was down from more than 24 percent in 2008, according to data from NALP, formerly the National Association for Law Placement.

Of the 2011 law grads who landed jobs at law firms, just 21 percent obtained their positions through interviewing, compared with almost 37 percent in 2008. The numbers were the latest available.

Interviewing remains a big deal at many of the nation’s top law schools, and pretty much the only way to snag an associate position at the largest law firms, NALP executive director Jim Leipold said.

But those firms simply aren’t hiring as many summer associates as they used to, so the odds of emerging from interviews with a summer offer in hand were slimmer than they had been for at least a decade. "The stakes are higher than ever," Leipold said. "If you want the Big Law thing, you have to be successful in the OCI process."

Fewer law firms are showing up on law campuses for interviews these days. Of those that are, many are visiting fewer schools, NALP data show. In the past, it was not unusual for firms to fill in gaps in their incoming associate classes by hiring 3Ls during interviewing, which traditionally has focused on 2L recruiting. But last fall, firms made jobs offers to just 82 3Ls nationwide through interviewing.

Leipold had some good news for students who aspire to work at large law firms but don’t get a summer-associate offer during interviewing: The midcareer hiring market at larger firms has become more porous, meaning that attorneys with experience in government or other hot areas may be able to negotiate the switch, he said.

Networking remains the single most important thing law students can do to improve their odds of landing a job right out of school, he said. Students should begin meeting with lawyers face-to-face early in their law school careers — and get involved with bar groups, start a substantive law blog, volunteer or find other ways to interact with practitioners.

"Often, when students aren’t successful at OCI, they kind of go underground and bury themselves in their studies," Leipold said. "They maybe don’t start looking for a job again until the spring of their 2L year or the beginning of their 3L year. But it takes longer to find a job these days. They have to have a Plan B if OCI doesn’t work out."