Summer associate programs continue to shrink, new NALP survey says

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Summer associate class sizes continued to shrink in 2020, mostly because of smaller programs in law firms of more than 700 lawyers, according to a survey released Wednesday by the National Association for Law Placement.

The average summer program class size decreased to 11, down from 13 in 2019 and 14 the prior two years, according to an NALP press release. In firms of more than 700 lawyers, the average decreased from 22 in 2016 to 14 in 2020.

Overall, summer associate program sizes ranged from one to 226. The NALP’s full survey report is here.

The average length of summer associate programs also decreased, from 9.7 weeks in 2019 to 5.6 weeks this year. More than 86% of summer programs this year were entirely virtual; 8% were a hybrid with some in-person work and some virtual work; and 6% were entirely in-person programs.

The aggregate offer rate was nearly 97%, slightly below last year’s high of close to 98%. The overall acceptance rate reached a historic high of 87.8%, up slightly from 87.5% in 2018 and 2019. Before the recession, acceptance rates were much lower, ranging from 73% to 77%.

January 2021 was the most popular start date for first-year associates. Forty-eight percent of law firms chose January 2021 for a start date, followed by 18% who chose October and 15% who chose November.

Among firms that adjusted start dates, 55% offered stipends, and 50% offered salary advances to affected associates.

The NALP surveyed 510 employers, which hired 5,574 summer associates. The total number of summer associates is slightly lower than last year but well above the 2010 number of 1,881 summer associates.

More than half of the survey respondents represented firms of more than 700 lawyers, although responses often were given by the firms’ individual offices. In law firms that submitted a composite survey to cover multiple offices, the average class size on a firmwide basis was 37.

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