Correction, 10:05 a.m. EDT: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of first-year associates who received offers at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. It has been corrected in the eighth paragraph below. We regret the error.

The number of law students who spent their summers working at major law firms inched up between 2011 and 2012, and for the second straight year, nearly all those students’ efforts were rewarded with offers of full-time employment.

The related findings come from two recent American Lawyer surveys: the magazine’s Summer Hiring Survey, which asked firms for general information about their most recent summer associate classes, and an informal Am Law Daily poll that queried some two dozen national firms specifically about what percentage of their 2012 summer associates had received job offers.

All told, 21 firms responded to The Am Law Daily‘s inquiry, and 1,314 of the 1,361 of their summer associates, or 96.5 percent, received job offers. For those 21 firms, the 2012 rate is virtually identical to last year’s, when 1,234 of 1,280 summer associates, or 96.4 percent, were offered jobs. (As was true last year—when the Am Law Daily‘s survey of 17 national law firms yielded on overall offer rate of 97 percent for the summer class of 2011 compared to the 91.4 percent rate reported by NALP—the firms surveyed by The Am Law Daily this year may prove to be slightly more generous than some of their peers.)

With the exception of those who take judicial clerkships or pursue other post-law school endeavors, the students who received job offers after finishing their summer stints will start work at the firms they are joining next fall.

This year’s robust offer rate—well above the 69.3 percent figure reported by NALP for the summer class of 2009—may come as a surprise to at least some of the 4,137 students who responded to the most recent edition of The American Lawyer‘s Summer Associate Survey. That survey found anxiety among summer associates about their chosen profession hitting a four-year high in 2012 despite signs that law firms are more stable now than they were during the depths of the recession.

Underscoring that increased stability, the summer hiring survey found that the 92 responding firms that provided data for the past two years hired 15.5 percent more summer associates in 2012 than they did in 2011, with the average class size among those firms growing to 44.

Despite the improving outlook, law firm hiring partners say that gauging what their staffing needs will be in two years remains a challenge. “When I meet with the leaders in each office, I’m constantly discussing with them, what are your needs? What practice areas are busy?” says Greenberg Traurig shareholder Bradford Kaufman, who heads the firm’s recruiting efforts. “As you can imagine, it’s a difficult process.” This year, Greenberg hired 30 associates for its summer class and asked 26 to join the firm full time.

Of the firms surveyed by The Am Law Daily, several offered jobs to every second-year student who spent the summer with them. Firms that reported offer rates of 100 percent included: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton (115 summer associates); Hughes Hubbard & Reed (25); Jenner & Block (35); Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan (57); Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr (91, including six first-year students who received full-time employment offers); and White & Case (54).

Others topping the 95 percent mark: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (49 offers out of 50 summer associates); Bingham McCutchen (40 of 41); Covington & Burling (53 of 54); Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson (35 of 36); Goodwin Procter (54 of 56); Kirkland & Ellis (152 of 153); O’Melveny & Myers (72 of 74); Reed Smith (32 of 33); and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (104 of 105).

Jones Day (128 of 137) and Vinson & Elkins (80 of 86) offered more than 90 percent of their summers jobs, while just four of the firms surveyed reported offer rates below 90 percent: Baker Botts (68 of 78); Crowell & Moring (18 of 22); Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman (26 of 29); and Greenberg Traurig (26 of 30). [See chart for full data from 2011 and 2012].

Van Beckwith, who serves as the partner in charge of recruiting at Baker Botts, says his firm’s 87.2 percent offer rate is actually on the high side. “It’s a working clerkship for us,” which Beckwith says means that the Texas-based firm’s summer associates can’t count on automatic job offers. “We really want to make sure we are getting the highest quality in terms of thinking, writing, and ability to deliver legal services. We try to match up real work assignments for real clients, turn the associates loose and see how they do.”

At Crowell, which reported an 81.8 percent offer rate, Jennifer Waters, the partner in charge of the recruiting committee, says, “We’d love to be able to give offers to every summer associate, and we always go in with the hope that we will. Occasionally there are one or two who’s performance falls short.”

Greenberg’s Kaufman suggests his firm focuses on one key metric when deciding which students will get offers: “They’re all smart, they’ll all work hard, but are they going to deliver value?” To help analyze each summer associate’s performance, Greenberg uses a scaled down version of its regular associate evaluation process—something Kaufman says took thousands of hours in recent years to develop. The level of scrutiny applied to each student has intensified over the years, he adds: “What I recall, walking away from when I met all them, was a clear impression that I would never be adequate enough to get a job [today] as a summer associate.”

Related coverage:

The 2012 Summer Associates Survey

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