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After a soft recruiting season for 2021 summer associates, new cycle appears 'off to a rollicking start'

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Fifty-six percent of law firms reported making fewer offers for summer 2021 programs compared with summer 2020, according to data released Wednesday by the National Association for Law Placement.

More than three-quarters of law schools reported a decrease of 5% or more in the number of employers recruiting on campus, either in person or virtually, for the 2020-2021 recruiting cycle. Approximately 29% of law schools reported a decrease of more than 30%.

The COVID-19 pandemic extended the 2021 summer recruiting season through winter 2021, rather than summer and fall 2020, according to an NALP press release and report, Perspectives on 2020-21 Law Student Recruiting. The NALP changed its data collection time frame to take account of the extension.

The NALP received information on recruiting from 317 employers, consisting mostly of law firms and mostly firms of more than 250 lawyers. The NALP received recruiting information from 117 law schools.

James Leipold, the NALP’s executive director, said in the press release and report the 2020-2021 recruiting cycle numbers need an asterisk to explain that they are not comparable with other years.

“There is a story that emerges, however, despite the asterisks, and that is one of both resilience and caution,” Leipold said. “Firms made conservative decisions about future talent at a moment when the future was uncertain. In retrospect, some of those decisions may prove to have been too conservative, and indeed we see that some of the figures measured in this recruiting cycle approach some of the low water marks reached in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession.”

Things may be changing, Leipold said in the report.

“In fact, word on the street is that the July/August 2021 recruiting cycle for summer associate positions for members of the class of 2023 is already off to a rollicking start.”

Other key findings include:

• The percentage of callback interviews that resulted in offers for class of 2022 students in 2021 summer programs decreased to 50%, down from 51% the prior year and from 52% to 54% for five previous years. The yield on the offers increased by nearly 5 percentage points to about 41%. The yield rate is eclipsed only by that of 2009, when the yield was 43%.

• The average summer associate class size has been trending downward for the past two years. The average 2020 summer associate class size was 11, and the median was five. About 97% of the participants received an offer for an associate position, down slightly from about 98% in the summer 2019 program. The acceptance rate for summer 2020 was about 88%, the same as in 2019.

• Fifty-three percent of law firms and offices planned to host a summer 2021 program that is entirely virtual, according to the report. About 34% planned a hybrid program with in-person and out-of-office components. In summer 2020, 86% of summer programs were all virtual.

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