A Sampling of Findings from Patterns & Practices: Measures of Law Firm Hiring, Leverage and Billable Hours in 2002

NALP Bulletin, May 2003

  • What are the trends in the hiring of entry-level associates?
  • How does the volume of lateral hiring compare with that of entry-level hiring?
  • What percentage of summer associates typically receives an offer for an associate position?
  • To what extent do law firms leverage their partners with associates?
  • How many billable hours are associates working?
  • How much do these findings vary from city to city?

NALP's annual Patterns & Practices: Measures of Law Firm Hiring, Leverage, and Billable Hours in 2002 has been released and answers these questions for law firms nationwide and in 32 cities and 7 states. The findings are based on information found in a familiar NALP resource — the 2001 and 2002 NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE).

Among the many useful and informative features of this 120-page report are concise summary tables such as that shown at right, which allow quick comparisons on a nationwide and city-specific basis. For example:

  • Compared with an aggregate increase of 6.4% in second-year hiring between 2000 and 2001, these same firms reported plans to hire 13% fewer 2Ls in 2002 compared with 2001. But the decrease was expected to be far greater at the largest firms of 501 or more attorneys (-16.8%) and in the West (-20.6%).
  • Among the cities in which employers expected to hire at least 100 second-year students in 2002, the change from 2001 to 2002 ranged from none in Houston, to a decrease of 30.0% or more in Austin, San Jose, and Seattle.
  • It is also evident that the reversal of fortunes has been greater in some areas than others. For example, the expected decrease of 30% in second-year hiring at Seattle firms followed an increase of nearly that much, (27.1%) between 2000 and 2001. In Houston, on the other hand, hiring of 2Ls has been relatively steady over the same period.

Among other findings in the report:

  • Entry-level hiring increased very modestly — 3.7% — from 2000 to 2001, and was expected to decline slightly, by 2.2%, from 2001 to 2002.
  • Lateral hiring was off dramatically (-27.8%) between 2000 and 2001, resulting in firms hiring in aggregate slightly fewer laterals than entry-level attorneys in 2001, compared with hiring 38% more laterals than entry-level attorneys in 2000.
  • Nationwide, 86.5% of second-year summer associates considered for an associate offer received one.
  • Most offices reporting a minimum billable hours requirement require either 1,900 or 1,800 hours (22.6% and 21.6% of offices, respectively). Contrary to their reputations, New York City firms do not necessarily set the highest minimums. Although 28% of New York offices required 2,000 billable hours, the 2,000- hour minimum was even more prevalent in several other cities.

Summary of Second-Year Summer Hiring Trends — 2000-2002


# Hired in 2000 # Hired in 2001 # Expected to Be
Hired in 2002
% Change 2000-2001 % Change 2001-2002 # of Offices Reporting
Nationwide 10,502 11,172 9,677 6.4 -13.4 1,091
By Firm Size:
100 or fewer attorneys 789 827 814 4.8 -1.6 212
101-250 attorneys 2,042 2,071 1,825 1.4 -11.9 239
251-500 attorneys 2,701 2,811 2,492 4.1 -11.3 264
501 or more attorneys 4,970 5,463 4,546 9.9 -16.8 376
By Office Size:
25 or fewer attorneys 258 331 314 28.3 -5.1 210
26-50 attorneys 689 796 693 15.5 -12.9 219
51-100 attorneys 1,984 2,163 1,880 9.0 -13.1 305
101 or more attorneys 7,377 7,686 6,601 4.2 -14.1 327
By NALP Region:
Northeast 2,851 3,166 2,691 11.0 -15.0 178
Mid-Atlantic 1,867 2,036 1,724 9.1 -15.3 227
Southeast 2,152 2,182 2,055 1.4 -5.8 233
Midwest 1,583 1,626 1,459 2.7 -10.3 177
West/Rocky Mtn. 1,887 1,983 1,575 5.1 -20.6 271
By City:
Atlanta 340 368 335 8.2 -9.0 28
Austin 155 169 116 9.0 -31.4 18
Boston 442 450 353 1.8 -21.6 23
Charlotte 88 95 69 8.0 -27.4 10
Chicago 685 766 687 11.8 -10.3 56
Cincinnati 50 74 54 48.0 -27.0 10
Cleveland 103 99 93 -3.9 -6.1 9
Columbus 76 87 67 14.5 -23.0 12
Dallas 468 498 475 6.4 -4.6 31
Denver 61 65 53 6.6 -18.5 14
Detroit area 73 54 78 -26.0 44.4 11
Hartford 61 60 51 -1.6 -15.0 12
Houston 433 428 428 -1.2 0.0 28
Kansas City area 121 99 83 -18.2 -16.2 10
Los Angeles 597 657 544 10.1 -17.2 69
Miami 51 55 49 7.8 -10.9 15
Milwaukee 97 88 67 -9.3 -23.9 8
Minneapolis/St. Paul 155 148 136 -4.5 -8.1 17
New York City 2,201 2,504 2,149 13.8 -14.2 109
Northern Virginia 33 40 40 21.2 0.0 15
Orange County, CA 114 123 106 7.9 -13.8 21
Philadelphia 223 243 214 9.0 -11.9 16
Phoenix 74 77 72 4.1 -6.5 11
Pittsburgh 82 87 80 6.1 -8.0 13
Portland, OR 61 48 44 -21.3 -8.3 9
Raleigh/Durham 22 29 31 31.8 6.9 8
San Diego 93 92 53 -1.1 -42.4 14
San Francisco 321 325 275 1.2 -15.4 40
San Jose area 347 329 203 -5.2 -38.3 24
Seattle area 118 150 105 27.1 -30.0 26
Tampa/St. Petersburg 44 42 35 -4.5 -16.7 12
Washington, DC 1,154 1,273 1,070 10.3 -15.9 122
By State:
California 55 58 52 5.5 -10.3 14
Florida 46 41 55 -10.9 34.1 21
Indiana 45 46 40 2.2 -13.0 9
Missouri 60 60 56 0.0 -6.7 10
New Jersey 125 128 116 2.4 -9.4 22
New York 72 70 55 -2.8 -21.4 15
Virginia 81 105 72 29.6 -31.4 11

Note: State figures exclude any cities reported separately.

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