In the midst of an economic crisis that appears to be worsening, BigTex firms are tallying up the number of 2008 summer associates — current third-year law students — who have agreed to join the firms as first-year associates in the fall of 2009 and finding an acceptance rate that has not changed much from recent years.

So what can that mean? With the economy sputtering, it seems reasonable to expect acceptance rates at large Texas firms to skyrocket this year, as law students grab the sure thing and take guaranteed post-graduation jobs. After all, those students can’t be ignoring a steady stream of reports of associate layoffs and nixed offers at big national firms.

But this is Texas, and it’s likely that acceptance rates at BigTex firms are roughly even with rates in recent years simply because the Texas economy is doing relatively better than the national economy and firms aren’t scaling back hiring as much as elsewhere in the country.

David K. Richardson, a recruiter and principal with Pro Rata Legal Search in Austin, says he would expect to see a higher acceptance rate when the economy is bad. The fact that the 2008 rates for Texas’ largest firms are similar to those in 2007 may be due to the fact that Texas still has a strong legal employment market.

Richardson says a consistent acceptance rate means the firm is doing a good job of bringing in summer associates who are compatible with the firm and so they accept job offers.

Texas is one of the few states in the country that is still seeing growth in the number of jobs, says William C. Cobb of Cobb Consulting in Houston. And as the Texas economy goes, so goes the Texas legal industry, he says. “When you’re hiring more people, and still making money, you’re not going to stop using a lawyer,” he says.

Sixty-two percent of the 2008 summer associates who worked at 19 of Texas’ 25 largest firms have accepted job offers with those firms as 2009 first-year associates. The 25 largest firms are listed on “The Texas 100″ poster published in the April 28, 2008, issue of Texas Lawyer . The 62 percent acceptance rate is similar to acceptance rates reported in recent years by firms that made full-time associate job offers to summer associates in their Texas offices, according to NALP, a legal-employment research organization formerly known as the National Association for Law Placement. [See "Job Acceptance Rates at Large Texas Firms for 2009 First-year Associates," below.]

NALP’s acceptance rate data is summarized in a survey published in its August 2008 bulletin titled “Outcomes of Summer Programs.” About 450 employers, most of them law firms with more than 250 attorneys, participated in the NALP survey, which gathers data about full-time job offers to summer associates, says NALP research director Judith Collins.

The survey shows that Houston job acceptance rates in 2003, 2005 and 2007 were 62.3, 54.9 and 60.9 percent, respectively. In Dallas, the job acceptance rates in 2003, 2005 and 2007 were 68.2, 56 and 47.8 percent, respectively. While the NALP survey doesn’t identify the firms reporting the data, the numbers jibe well with the acceptance rates BigTex firms are currently reporting.

Representatives of six of Texas’ largest firms — two hiring partners, three recruiting managers and one managing partner — contend that this year’s acceptance rates are consistent with recent acceptance rates at their firms.

However, at 293-lawyer Winstead the acceptance rate is higher this year. Winstead hiring shareholder Richard C. Leucht of Dallas says the firm made offers to 16 of its 28 summer associates and 11 of those summer associates (69 percent) accepted the full-time associate offers for 2009. Last year, Winstead made offers to 20 of its 34 summer associates, with 11 (58 percent) taking the offers.

Leucht says the slightly higher 69 percent acceptance rate this year is likely due to some other firms dropping multiple summer sessions, with the end result being that summer associates work at fewer firms and so receive fewer job offers.

Leucht says the acceptance rate at the Dallas-based firm bounces up and down from year to year based on variables including the number of offers each 3L student receives, whether the student is making a decision based on geography and whether the candidate has been offered a judicial clerkship. “In the past seven years we’ve had 100 percent acceptance and 25 percent acceptance [rates],” he says.

This year’s acceptance rates are fairly consistent with past years’ rates at several other large Texas firms.

“We had 42 2Ls in the summer, and we gave offers to 38 of them,” says Andrew M. Edison, hiring partner at Houston-based Bracewell & Giuliani. “Of those 38 offers, 24 have accepted, which is a 63 percent acceptance rate. Bracewell employs 463 lawyers firmwide and 328 in Texas. That percentage is consistent with previous years,” he says.

Fifty percent of the 2008 Texas summer associates offered full-time associate jobs in 2009 with Houston-based Vinson & Elkins have accepted those jobs, says Thomas S. Leatherbury, hiring partner for the firm, which employs 745 attorneys firmwide and 543 in Texas. Leatherbury says the firm offered full-time associate positions for 2009 to 70 of its 74 summer associates with 35 or 50 percent accepting those offers. Fifteen of the summer associates who were offered full-time positions have accepted judicial clerkships and may join the firm in 2010 or 2011, but they are not included in the firm’s acceptance rate. The acceptance rate is similar to the 52 percent rate the firm saw in 2007, he says.

“Our numbers are very much in line with historical numbers,” he says. Leatherbury says V&E uses its historical acceptance — or yield rates — to project the size of its summer programs so the firm has the number of full-time associates it wants to hire a year or two in the future.

“If we want 13 lawyers to start in Dallas in the fall of 2009, we use the yield rates to know how many summer associates we typically have to have in the summer program in Dallas to get to 13 lawyers,” he says.

Seventy-nine percent — 15 of the 19 summer associates offered full-time associate jobs in 2009 with Dallas-based Gardere Wynne Sewell — have accepted those offers, says Stephen D. Good, managing partner of the 281-lawyer firm. Good says that 79 percent is a typical acceptance rate for his firm, which, on average, hires 25 summer associates.

In 2007, the firm made offers to 19 of its 22 summer associates, and 14 or 74 percent accepted the full-time offers to become associates this fall. Like other firms, Good says, the firm uses its acceptance rate to determine how many summer associates it needs to hire to yield a projected level of full-time first-year associates the following fall.

Dallas-based Thompson & Knight offered full-time associate jobs for 2009 to 23 of its 36 Texas summer associates, and 13 or 57 percent have accepted, says Jennifer Carman, the firm’s recruiting manager. She says this acceptance rate is comparable to recent years. The firm employs 465 lawyers firmwide and 358 in Texas.

Thirty-four summer associates accepted full-time associate positions for 2009 with Dallas-based Haynes and Boone, says recruiting manager Amanda Kelly. That’s an acceptance rate of 67 percent for the firm, which employs 510 attorneys firmwide and 437 in Texas. The firm offered jobs to 51 of its 57 Texas summer associates. Kelly notes that one of the summer associates has accepted a judicial clerkship, so that person may join the firm in 2010, but they do not now include that student in the firm’s acceptance rate for 2009 jobs.

Kelly says the acceptance rate is slightly higher than it has been in recent years, but she does not believe the difference is significant or driven by the uncertain economy. “Next year it will be interesting to see if the economy affects acceptances,” she says. “This year it did not affect us.”

Fifty-nine summer associates accepted full-time associate offers to join Baker Botts’ Texas offices in 2009, says Rachel Koenig, firmwide director of recruiting and development. The firm made offers to 93 of its 109 2008 summer associates in Texas. Koenig notes that seven of the summer associates will be judicial clerks and may join the firm in 2010 or 2011.

“Those offers could remain outstanding for another two years,” she says.

Baker Botts employs 559 attorneys in Texas and 830 firmwide. The 63 percent acceptance rate is consistent for the firm, Koenig says. Last year, the firm offered jobs to 106 of its 115 Texas summer associates and 73 (69 percent) accepted.

Summer 2009

While some firms plan to scale back their summer associate programs, others, such as Bracewell and V&E, plan to have the same or larger numbers of Texas summer associates in 2009.

“Some firms told us they were cutting back on the number of people they are bringing in for the summer of 2009, but some folks are bringing in more,” says Arturo Errisuriz, assistant dean for career services at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth. “It is hard to figure out what is going on,” he says.

Gardere’s Good, Baker Botts’ Koenig, Thompson & Knight’s Carman, and Kelly with Haynes and Boone say they will employ fewer 2009 summer associates in Texas compared to 2008. Additional firms have reported plans to have smaller summer associate classes in 2009. [ See "Some Texas Firms Scale Back Summer Programs in Tough Economy," Texas Lawyer, Oct. 27, 2008, page 1. ]

At Bracewell, Edison says the firm will have about 55 Texas summer associates in 2009, the same number it hired in 2008. V&E may have as many as 123 Texas summer associates in 2009, compared with 113 students in the summer of 2008, Leatherbury says.

Some firms have rescinded summer associate job offers, according to The American Lawyer , a Texas Lawyer affiliate. [ See "Firms Rescinding Summer Job Offers."] The article notes that Dallas-based Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld rescinded 2009 summer associate offers in its New York and Los Angeles offices due to higher than expected acceptance rates.

Charles R. Gibbs, hiring partner for the firm’s Dallas office, says the firm will not rescind any offers made to its 2009 Texas summer associates. Gibbs did not have information readily available about the number of Texas summer associates the firm will hire for 2009.

Texas is one of the strongest legal markets in the country, says David Montoya, assistant dean for career services at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. Montoya says some UT law students reported that 2009 summer associate positions were rescinded but that there were “very limited instances in Texas.” Montoya declines to name firms or the number of positions involved.

“I have seen a reduction in the number of [summer 2009] offers extended but have not seen any rescinded,” says Julie C. Doss, assistant dean for career services at Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock. “We did have two employers I know of decide, after interviews, that they were not going to have summer associate programs,” she says. Doss declines to identify the firms.

Karen C. Sargent, assistant dean of career services at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas, says firms are making fewer summer associate offers to her students, but none have been rescinded. “The firms told us early on that they were considering smaller clerkship classes, so we were expecting that,” she says.

Errisuriz and Doss say in general small and mid-sized firms will not make decisions about their 2009 summer associate programs until the spring of 2009.

Notes Doss, “They have not hired yet, and we won’t know their plans until the end of February or March.”

Job Acceptance Rates at Large Texas
Firms for 2009 First-Year Associates

This chart depicts the number of law students who were second-year summer associates at large firms in Texas during the summer of 2008, the number of permanent job offers extended to those summer associates and the number of those summer associates who have accepted 2009 first-year associate positions in the firm’s Texas offices. The 19 firms on the chart are among the 25 largest in Texas as reported on Texas Lawyer’s The Texas 100 poster, published on April 28, 2008.
Firm No. of 2L Summer Associates in 2008 First-Year Associate Offers for Fall 2009 First-Year Associate Offers Accepted for Fall 2009 First-Year Associate Acceptance Rates for Fall 2009
Andrews Kurth 34 29 19 66%
Baker Botts 109 93 59 63%
Bracewell & Giuliani 42 38 24 63%
Clark, Thomas & Winters 6 2 2 100%
Cox Smith Matthews 19 17 9 53%
Gardere Wynne Sewell 31 19 15 79%
Haynes and Boone 57 51 34 67%
Hunton & Williams 5 5 5 100%
Jackson Walker 16 12 9 75%
Jones Day 44 41 28 68%
K&L Gates 13 12 5 42%
King & Spalding 8 5 3 60%
Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell 55 35 24 69%
Patton Boggs 13 8 5 63%
Strasburger & Price 10 9 5 56%
Thompson & Knight 36 23 13 57%
Vinson & Elkins 74 70 35 50%
Weil, Gotshal & Manges 38 32 17 53%
Winstead 28 16 11 69%
Totals 638 518 322 62%
Source: the firms.
The six firms that did not provide data are Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Brown McCarroll; Fulbright & Jaworski; Kelly Hart & Hallman; Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr; and Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons.
Texas Lawyer, December 2008