Some Deferred Start Dates May Become Withdrawn Job Offers

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Legal experts are using some interesting terms to describe the problem that will be created when 2010 law grads begin seeking jobs with law firms that deferred start dates for their 2009 entering class.

There will be a clogged pipeline. An associate pileup. A collision of classes.

The terms surfaced in a National Law Journal article on the problems of deferred start dates. And some of the experts interviewed are raising the possibility that the pushed-back start dates will turn into withdrawn job offers, causing further career havoc.

At Morrison & Foerster, there are two deferred start dates for 2009 grads: Some associates have been asked to start in April 2010 and others in January 2011. (Some will still be able to start in November 2009.) Law firm chairman Keith Wetmore thinks the push-back start-date phenomenon is likely to stretch into the future. “I have a theory that we may have several years where the so-called ‘first-year class’ will have people with varying graduation dates,” he told the National Law Journal.

The news is bad for current law students, according to data from the National Association for Law Placement. The median number of summer job offers made at law firms with more than 700 lawyers has fallen from 30 for the class of 2009 to 18.5 for the class of 2010.

Next year’s graduates will also be hurting. NALP executive director James Leipold tells the NLJ that he expects a “collision of classes” as new grads in 2010 compete for jobs with this year’s graduates. And he warns that 2009 graduates with deferred start dates could get more bad news.

“It’s hard to imagine they’ll be able to start all these people when they say they can,” Leipold told the NLJ. “A law firm that’s deferring people might not even exist in the future.”

Bruce MacEwen, who edits the blog Adam Smith, Esq., says most law firms won’t need all of their deferred associates. Those graduates with longer start dates are most at risk, he told the legal newspaper.

“If a firm is delaying for a year, it’s saying, ‘We have no idea what things will look like,’ ” he said.

Updated at 2:38 p.m. to clarify that some Morrison & Foerster associates will be able to start in November.

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