How Have Summer Program Trends Compared to the Entry-Level Big Law Job Market?

NALP Bulletin, June 2020

From 2008 to 2011, following the Great Recession, the number of entry-level Big Law jobs reported within NALP's Employment Report and Salary Survey collapsed, with the number reported dropping by more than 3,100 jobs (for our purposes, we will define Big Law firms as those of more than 250 lawyers). Since then the number of Big Law jobs has steadily risen, increasing by almost 2,000; however, for the Class of 2018 there were still almost 1,150 fewer entry-level jobs in large law firms than there were for the Class of 2008. (See Chart 1.)

NALP's annual Survey of Legal Employers on Recruiting provides us with complementary trend data on the total number of 2L students participating in summer programs, offer volumes for summer programs, and the total number of callback invitations extended. These raw numbers are dependent upon the number of offices participating in the survey each year but provide us with insight into how summer programs have rebounded alongside the entry-level Big Law employment sector.

As seen in Table 1, the total number of 2Ls participating in summer programs fell dramatically from 5,033 in 2008 to only 1,881 in 2010, or just a little more than one-third of the number from two years prior. After bottoming out in summer 2010, the number of 2Ls participating in summer programs began to slowly increase in 2011, before jumping up to about 4,500 in 2013 and holding relatively steady between 4,300-4,500 from 2013-2015. These numbers spiked again in 2016 and exceeded the summer 2008 numbers for the first time since the Great Recession, increasing to roughly 5,300. Despite some fluctuations, these reported numbers have remained above the summer 2008 figure since 2016, reaching their highest point in summer 2019, with nearly 5,600 2Ls participating in summer programs.

Further analyses of these data indicate that these numbers vary considerably by firm size. The largest firms of 701+ lawyers have seen their share of 2L students participating in summer programs increase from about 55% of all summer 2Ls in 2008 to 74% of all summer 2Ls in 2019. During the same period of time, the number of offices reporting data that are in firms of 701+ lawyers has grown substantially, increasing from 136 in 2008 to 233 in 2019. Of course, this period has been marked by fairly dramatic law firm consolidation, and so there are more firms of 701+ lawyers than there were in 2008. The total number of 2L students participating in summer programs in all other firm sizes remain below their 2008 figures, except for firms of 251-500 lawyers. (See Table 2.)

Table 3 reports the total number of offers made to 2Ls for summer programs. These offers were made in the preceding fall (e.g., fall 2019 for summer 2020 programs). More than 11,000 offers were made in fall 2008 for summer 2009 programs. For summer 2010 programs, the number of offers made fell to less than 4,000, or about one-third the number of offers from the previous year. Beginning with summer 2011 programs, offer volumes began increasing steadily, before jumping up by almost 4,440 offers over summer 2013 to approximately 10,500 offers for summer 2014 programs. Interestingly, the total number of 2Ls participating in summer 2014 programs was actually slightly lower than the total number from summer 2013. Overall, offer volumes have continued to increase since bottoming out in summer 2010, despite some occasional small dips from year to year. Volumes have exceeded their summer 2009 class figures since summer 2015, and for summer 2020 offer volumes were nearly 2,200 higher than for summer 2009.

When examining offer volumes by firm size, we see similar trends to the number of 2L students reporting participation in summer programs. Firms of 701+ lawyers have seen their share of offers increase from 63% of total offer volume for summer 2009 programs to 78% of total offer volume for summer 2020 programs. Offer volumes in all other firm sizes remain below their summer 2009 program figures, except for firms of 251-500 lawyers. (See Table 4.)

As with offer volumes, the number of callback invitations to 2Ls for summer programs declined dramatically as the Great Recession hit. Callback invitations were extended in the preceding fall (e.g., fall 2019 for summer 2020 programs). The number of callback invitations extended for summer 2010 programs dropped nearly 60% compared to the number of callback invitations for summer 2009 programs. Like the offers-made figures, the number of callback invitations started to increase for summer 2011, but picked up dramatically for summer 2014 programs, increasing by nearly 12,000 invitations over the previous year. With just one brief step backward, callback invitations have continued to increase since reaching their summer 2010 valley and at nearly 35,000 invitations for summer 2020, now stand at their highest point since prior to the Great Recession. The total number of callback invitations has exceeded the summer 2009 program figure since summer 2017. (See Table 5.)

Again, looking at these numbers by firm size reveals similar patterns to those seen with summer 2Ls and offer volumes, with the share of callback invitations from firms of 701+ lawyers increasing from 58% of all callback invitations for summer 2009 programs to 74% of all callback invitations for summer 2020 programs. Similarly, the total number of callback invitations declined from summer 2009 to summer 2020 in all other firm sizes, except those of 251-500 lawyers. (See Table 6.)

These raw numbers suggest that despite the most recent Big Law entry-level job market figures remaining below their Class of 2008 levels, summer program participation had fully recovered as of the 2019 summer class. And while it remains to be seen exactly how the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will impact future summer program participation and employment outcomes, it is sure to have an impact and summer 2019 numbers are likely to stand as a high-water mark for some time to come.


Chart 1. Number of 2Ls Participating in Summer Programs and Number of Entry-Level Big Law Jobs, 2008 - 2019


Sources: NALP's Perspectives on Law Student Recruiting, 2008-2019 and Jobs & JDs, Classes of 2008-2018.
Note: Data for 2Ls include the number of 2Ls participating in summer programs in the year listed. Data on entry-level big law jobs (defined as those in law firms of 251+ lawyers) are for the graduating class year referenced. Data on entry-level big-law jobs for the Class of 2019 are not yet available as of the time of publication.


Table 1: Total Number of 2Ls Participating in Summer Programs, 2008 – 2019

Summer Year Number of Students Number of Offices Reporting
2019 5,587 417
2018 5,120 367
2017 5,154 373
2016 5,312 373
2015 4,329 335
2014 4,433 363
2013 4,501 410
2012 2,769 305
2011 2,260 278
2010 1,881 242
2009 3,779 307
2008 5,033 374

Source: NALP's Perspectives on Law Student Recruiting, 2008-2019.


Table 2. Total Number of 2Ls Participating in Summer Programs by Firm Size, 2008 - 2019

Number of Lawyers Firm-Wide
Summer Year 100 or Fewer Lawyers 101-250 Lawyers 251-500 Lawyers 501-700 Lawyers 701+ Lawyers
# of Students # of Offices Reporting # of Students # of Offices Reporting # of Students # of Offices Reporting # of Students # of Offices Reporting # of Students # of Offices Reporting
2019 51 13 296 57 671 70 462 44 4,107 233
2018 91 22 262 58 730 72 427 29 3,610 186
2017 91 28 355 59 690 85 614 27 3,404 174
2016 94 37 372 61 746 77 666 39 3,434 159
2015 114 40 293 57 536 55 614 38 2,764 144
2014 121 39 346 57 729 71 579 34 2,658 162
2013 158 54 479 70 732 70 390 27 2,727 188
2012 135 43 343 47 417 52 418 34 1,456 129
2011 87 22 197 40 397 43 280 33 1,275 139
2010 84 30 201 41 408 49 NA* NA* 1,188* 122*
2009 155 49 372 49 657 47 340 22 2,231 139
2008 231 59 602 74 520 44 868 60 2,782 136

Source: NALP's Perspectives on Law Student Recruiting, 2008-2019.
Note: *Firm sizes of 501-700 lawyers and 701+ lawyers were combined into a category of 501+ lawyers in 2010 because relatively few responses were received from firms of 501-700 lawyers.
NA: Not available


Table 3: Total Offer Volume for Summer Programs for 2Ls, 2009 - 2020

Summer Year Number of Offers Number of Offices Reporting
2020 13,452 394
2019 13,684 340
2018 12,945 321
2017 13,526 329
2016 12,731 307
2015 11,934 321
2014 10,547 359
2013 6,171 303
2012 6,158 283
2011 5,172 279
2010 3,979 247
2009 11,254 374

Source: NALP's Perspectives on Law Student Recruiting, 2008-2019.
Note: Offers were made in the preceding fall (e.g., fall 2019 for summer 2020 programs).


Table 4. Total Offer Volume for Summer Programs for 2Ls by Firm Size, 2009 - 2020

Number of Lawyers Firm-Wide
Summer Year 100 or Fewer Lawyers 101-250 Lawyers 251-500 Lawyers 501-700 Lawyers 701+ Lawyers
# of Offers # of Offices Reporting # of Offers # of Offices Reporting # of Offers # of Offices Reporting # of Offers # of Offices Reporting # of Offers # of Offices Reporting
2020 125 12 683 53 1,355 64 771 40 10,518 225
2019 157 18 520 53 1,793 68 1,028 29 10,186 172
2018 166 24 598 52 1,517 64 1,314 24 9,350 157
2017 149 32 641 53 1,600 69 1,666 34 9,470 141
2016 158 32 592 52 1,664 50 1,487 35 8,820 137
2015 149 35 569 50 2,049 70 1,160 24 8,007 142
2014 195 40 827 62 1,632 60 765 22 7,128 175
2013 203 42 588 48 974 52 923 34 3,483 127
2012 108 21 316 38 950 44 811 36 3,956 143
2011 131 34 490 47 936 54 NA* NA* 3,615* 144*
2010 149 38 354 45 716 41 435 19 2,303 103
2009 256 59 1,079 74 961 44 1,879 60 7,041 136

Source: NALP's Perspectives on Law Student Recruiting, 2008-2019.
Notes: *Firm sizes of 501-700 lawyers and 701+ lawyers were combined into a category of 501+ lawyers for summer 2011 because relatively few responses were received from firms of 501-700 lawyers.
Offers were made in the preceding fall (e.g., fall 2019 for summer 2020 programs).
NA: Not available


Table 5. Total Number of Callback Invitations Extended for Summer Programs for 2Ls, 2009 - 2020

Summer Year Number of Callback Invitations Number of Offices Reporting
2020 34,821 416
2019 33,821 381
2018 33,628 361
2017 33,477 358
2016 30,767 333
2015 31,484 360
2014 29,283 397
2013 17,534 301
2012 17,075 282
2011 15,325 270
2010 13,061 245
2009 31,625 368

Source: NALP's Perspectives on Law Student Recruiting, 2008-2019. Note: Callback invitations were extended in the preceding fall (e.g., fall 2019 for summer 2020 programs).


Table 6. Total Number of Callback Invitations Extended for Summer Programs for 2Ls by Firm Size, 2009 - 2020

Number of Lawyers Firm-Wide
Summer Year 100 or Fewer Lawyers 101-250 Lawyers 251-500 Lawyers 501-700 Lawyers 701+ Lawyers
# of Callback Invitations # of Offices Reporting # of Callback Invitations # of Offices Reporting # of Callback Invitations # of Offices Reporting # of Callback Invitations # of Offices Reporting # of Callback Invitations # of Offices Reporting
2020 410 13 1,972 53 4,389 74 2,179 42 25,871 234
2019 612 23 1,562 54 5,022 84 2,741 33 23,884 187
2018 502 28 2,108 54 4,448 74 3,240 26 23,330 179
2017 569 35 2,142 54 4,323 74 3,838 34 22,605 161
2016 612 37 1,841 56 4,239 56 4,114 39 19,961 145
2015 635 36 1,994 55 5,248 74 3,348 32 20,259 163
2014 809 47 2,541 65 4,720 69 2,471 29 18,742 187
2013 721 41 2,080 47 2,850 52 2,955 34 8,928 127
2012 395 20 1,220 38 2,564 44 2,448 35 10,317 144
2011 438 30 1,589 45 2,916 53 NA* NA* 10,382* 142*
2010 567 36 1,463 45 2,394 41 1,648 19 6,866 103
2009 957 54 3,539 70 2,981 44 5,790 60 18,233 139

Source: NALP's Perspectives on Law Student Recruiting, 2008-2019.
Notes: *Firm sizes of 501-700 lawyers and 701+ lawyers were combined into a category of 501+ lawyers for summer 2011 because relatively few responses were received from firms of 501-700 lawyers.
Callback invitations were extended in the preceding fall (e.g., fall 2019 for summer 2020 programs).
NA: Not available

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