Summer Associate Offers Plummet, Hitting 17-Year Low

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Reports of layoffs, deferrals and frustration for graduating law students competing for a scarcity of jobs are plentiful.

The news didn’t get any better from National Association for Law Placement, which has been collecting recruiting data since 1993.

As the U.S. and global economies were battered by “the Great Recession” in the third quarter of 2009, recruiting volumes by U.S. legal employers on law school campuses “nose-dived,” NALP reports in its annual Perspectives on Fall Recruiting (PDF) released Tuesday.

NALP Executive Director James Leipold expects law school recruiting to continue hobbling along until at least the class of 2012 graduates, “though the worst does now seem, we hope, to be behind us.”

All of the markers measuring the strength of the legal market for new lawyers fell in 2009, which indicates not only a continuing, but “accelerating” downward trend in recruiting volumes, NALP says.

Stats for summer associates were the worst, with the median number of offers dropping to seven for 2010 hiring. The median number of offers for students recruited in 2008 was 10, dropping from 15 in 2007, NALP reports.

At large firms with more than 700 lawyers, the median number of offers dropped to eight in 2009, down from 18.5 in 2008 and 30 in 2007. And while larger firms of more than 500 lawyers were the most likely to cut back on-campus recruiting efforts, smaller firms with 100 lawyers or fewer were more likely to have kept to their regular on-campus recruiting schedule.

When students did get offers, more than ever, they jumped at the chance. Acceptance rates were 42.8 percent, the highest ever recorded.

Deferrals were also way up, with 85 percent of law schools reporting that at least one 2009 graduate faced an offer delay into 2010. NALP estimates that at least 3,200 and as many as 3,700 graduating law students faced deferrals.

“This represents an enormous interruption in the usual recruiting and employment patterns that we have come to expect,” Leipold said in a statement about the report. “For the class of 2009, the largest impact was the deferral phenomenon.”

Deferrals were, not surprisingly, highest at the largest firms and the lowest in small firms in the Southeast and Midwest. NALP reports that the median number of deferrals ranged from three in Atlanta to 19.5 in New York.

While many deferred associates have started to work, deferrals are still present and NALP expects those who don’t have solid start dates at this point will be deferred.

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