Entry-Level Recruiting Slows with Economy

February 18, 2009

Consistent with the overall weakening of the legal economy, all of the markers that measure the strength of the legal employment market for new lawyers, such as law firm recruiting levels for summer programs and summer program outcomes, trended downward in 2008, after four years of a very strong legal recruiting market.

Based on information provided by NALP members about fall 2008 recruiting, the market for entry-level legal employment constricted measurably, especially for current second-year students (2Ls) seeking a position for summer 2009. This is according to Perspectives on Fall 2008 Law Student Recruiting, an annual report published by NALP on selected aspects of fall recruitment activity and the experiences of both legal employers and law schools.

The most dramatic impact of the current economic situation on legal employment opportunities was on the numbers that describe the fall recruiting of 2Ls for summer 2009 positions. Across employers of all sizes, the median number of offers extended dropped dramatically from 15 in fall of 2007 to 10 in fall of 2008. At the largest firms — firms with more than 700 lawyers firm-wide — the median number of offers dropped from 30 to 18.5. Similarly, the percent of callback interviews resulting in offers for summer spots fell precipitously to 46.6% from a figure that had hovered at or above 60% for the three years prior. Not surprisingly, the offer acceptance rate also jumped. At 32.5%, it is the highest rate recorded since 2002.

Among the report's findings:

OCI Activity and Job Fairs

Overall, rates of on-campus interviewing and participation in job fairs generally either decreased or at best remained relatively constant. Almost half of schools (46%) reported a decrease of 5% or more in the number of employers on campus, and 38% reported a change of less than 5%. This marks a change over the last several years, during which a majority of schools had consistently reported an increase in the number of employers on-campus. These percentages varied somewhat by region. For example, schools in the Midwest were somewhat less likely to report a decrease of 5% or more (34%) and most likely by far to report an increase of 5% or more. About 41% did so, compared to 26% nationwide.

On the employer side, consistent with the decreased number of employers reported by many schools, 39% of employers reported visiting fewer schools in their recruiting efforts. About 30% visited more schools. The nationwide median number of schools at which employers recruited was eight. Firms of 101-700 lawyers were most likely to have decreased the number of schools visited, with about half doing so. Among the largest firms of more than 700 lawyers, about 40% reported visiting more schools in 2008 compared with 2007. Smaller firms of 100 or fewer lawyers were most likely to have maintained the number of schools they visited. Significantly, most plans for on-campus visits would have been made before the depth and scale of the economic slowdown became clear in September. However, as the report documents, even though employers may have visited the same number or even more schools, these employers in general made fewer offers.

Nearly all schools responding participated in one or more job fairs, and one-third participated in more than ten. Schools in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions were more likely to participate in more than ten job fairs, with 40% and 52%, respectively, doing so. In contrast, one-third of schools in the West reported that level of participation. About 25% of responding employers did not participate in any job fairs, but 53% reported participating in two or more. Offices in the Northeast were most likely to participate in job fairs compared to offices in other regions.

Summer Program Outcomes

Employers had determined the size of their 2008 summer classes well before the legal economy registered the impact of the current slowdown. Thus the median class size for summer 2008 was six and the average was 13, figures that were unchanged from 2007. In general, however, fewer offers were made at the conclusion of these summer programs. While overall 90% of these summer associates received an offer to return as an associate after graduation, this is the lowest offer rate since 2003. Not surprisingly, the acceptance rate for these offers rose. Eighty percent of these offers were accepted, a figure that marks the highest offer acceptance rate since NALP began compiling these figures in 1993.

Summer programs were the largest in New York City with a median of 14 and average of 32, and smallest in Raleigh, Miami, and Denver, where both medians and averages were 2 or 3.

This year’s report also provides information on the length and ending dates for summer programs. Summer programs in 2008 were typically 10 to 12 weeks long, regardless of firm size, similar to recent years. Over three-quarters of offices reported summer programs of either 10, 11, or 12 weeks, although the lengths reported ranged from 9 to 19 weeks.

On a regional basis, the Southeast and Midwest varied the most from the norm, with shorter programs, especially six-week programs, much more common in the Southeast (20%). In the Midwest 61% of firms reported holding a twelve-week program. Twelve-week programs were most commonly reported by offices in Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Most programs ended in early to mid-August, as has been the case in recent years for which NALP has compiled this information. The end dates reported ranged from June 27 to as late as the third week of September.

Fall Recruiting

Employers issued a median of 40 and an average of 86 callback invitations to current second-year students for summer 2009 programs. Nationwide, 74% of these callback invitations were accepted. Overall, not quite 47% of callback interviews resulted in an offer, with a median of 10 offers per employer. About 33% of the offers made to Class of 2010 students for 2009 summer programs were accepted, a figure that rose by over 3 percentage points in 2008. This figure had been trending down since reaching 35% in 2002, and is now at a level similar to that of the mid-1990s.

This level of callback activity is somewhat lower than in 2007, when the average and median number of callback invitations were 93 and 46, respectively. This downturn ended the generally upward trend seen between 2002 and 2007. For large firms of more than 500 lawyers, about half of callback interviews to second-year students resulted in offers, compared with about 31% in firms of 100 or fewer lawyers. However, acceptance rates were higher at firms of 100 or fewer lawyers, over half, compared with about 31% in firms of more than 500 lawyers.

Analyses at the city level revealed wide variations. For example, employers in New York City, not surprisingly, reported by far the highest level of activity in callback invitations and interviews of second-year students, making an average of 89 offers to second-year students for summer 2009. Acceptance rates were lowest at offices in New York, Washington, DC, and San Jose, where just over one-quarter of offers were accepted. Acceptance rates were highest in Raleigh, Austin, and Portland, OR, at over 60%.

About 25% of survey respondents, or 105 employers, reported recruiting of third-year students not previously employed by them. This level of activity is off from that of the previous four years, which in turn did not match that of 1999 and 2000, when almost two-thirds of respondents recruited third-years. The median and average number of callback invitations were 3, and 7, respectively, and most of these callback invitations (88%) were accepted. About 20% of these interviews resulted in offers, 66% of which were accepted. Although the average number of callbacks, and the total volume, was highest by far in the Northeast, the median was highest, at 5, in the Mid-Atlantic region. At the city level, New York City reported the greatest volume, with a median of 19 and average of 31 callback invitations, but still averaged only 3 offers per office interviewing third-years. Acceptance rates varied widely, from 33% in San Jose to 75% in Chicago.

Read the full report including all of the data tables here (free PDF download).

About NALP: Founded in 1971, the National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP) is dedicated to facilitating legal career counseling and planning, recruitment and retention, and the professional development of law students and lawyers. NALP maintains an online archive of press releases at www.nalp.org — click on Research & Statistics > Press Releases. For additional information about NALP research, contact Judith Collins ([email protected]), Director of Research, or James G. Leipold ([email protected]), Executive Director, at 202-835-1001. Mailing address: National Association for Law Placement, 1025 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 1110, Washington, DC 20036-5413.

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