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December 1, 2009 2:36 PM

Good News for 2Ls: More Interviews

Posted by Zach Lowe

Good news has been hard to come by for second-year law school students. The bit we're about to share amounts to but a trickle compared with the tidal wave of bad news they've dealt with in the last year. But, right now, any good news matters, what with firms cutting their summer 2010 class sizes to record lows, or eliminating them altogether, and law schools reporting--internally, for now--a big number of 2Ls with no set summer gigs. (One law school recruiting director we spoke to estimates that firms' 2010  summer classes will be  20-50 percent smaller than the 2009 classes.)

But a small number of those 2Ls stand to benefit from an added mini-round of recruiting, which law school officials and firm recruiters attribute to the cautious stance some firms took the first time around in August and September. The reason, according to about a dozen sources we interviewed: Firms shooting for smaller class sizes limited their offers to the best of the best in the class of 2010. The students in that group found themselves with several offers to choose from, leaving firms short of the already smaller-than-usual targets they'd set. Now those firms are going back to top law schools and asking about candidates who have not yet secured a gig for summer 2010, according to career services deans at law schools, law firm recruiters, and industry groups.

"I like to look at this optimistically," says Susan Guindi, assistant dean of career services at the University of Michigan Law School. "Firms were just very, very conservative. When they realized they still had room, they decided to take a look at some other candidates."

"The best firms all shot for the very top students, and they couldn't all fill their classes that way," says James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement. "There's an awful lot of rich talent in the market, and things could still work out for a lot of those folks. It could end up being a sort of happy ending."

Law school recruiters say they can't pinpoint the number of firms that are making late inquiries about summer associates, but they say they wouldn't be surprised to get a call from any Am Law 200 firm at this point. Names that have come up in our conversations include: Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Kelley Drye & Warren; Kaye Scholer; Latham & Watkins, along with many others.

Some law firms, the career advisers say, returned to campuses in November for additional interviews--though those sessions tended to be with a select group of students who matched certain criteria (such as practice area experience and interest, or a willingness to work in a particular part of the country). Other firms are calling career services officials and asking to be connected with such students, officials say. In early November, Georgetown University's law school set up videoconference interviews with law firm partners outside the Washington, D.C., region for a handful of 2Ls, says Gihan Fernando, assistant dean for career services at the school.

Additionally, in an effort to help jobless 2Ls attract some interest, elite schools like Harvard Law School and Columbia Law School have compiled resumes of uncommitted 2Ls into books and sent them to law firms, according to officials at those schools.

Late fall inquiries aren't unheard of, say law school career advisers, but the larger number of added interviews this year is atypical.

"This is not something we saw a lot of in the past," Guindi says.

Still, officials on both sides caution that this second round of recruiting is not going to produce a flood of job offers for 2Ls who don't yet have them. "Firms are still being very selective," says Mark Weber, assistant dean for career services at Harvard. "This has been a pleasant surprise, but it's not like they are absolutely beating down our doors." Weber and other law school career deans expect that a decent number of 2Ls will land surprise offers in the next month or so, but not every uncommitted 2L should get his or her hopes up.

Recruiters at law firms identified as participants in this mini-recruiting season declined to comment for this story; many said they thought doing so publicly would make it appear as if they needed to work harder than other firms to attract the best students. A few firms--including Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Debevoise & Plimpton--expressly denied going back to law schools for a second look when we contacted them, saying they filled their summer 2010 slots in the traditional time frame. 

Weber says the mini-recruiting season may point to the firms' willingness to return to schools yet again in the spring in search of a diamond-in-the-rough 2L. "Spring recruiting is going to be interesting," he says, noting that firms usually reserve the spring for 1L recruiting. "I expect there will be limited 1L hiring but that some firms might come back in the spring for 2L hiring." 

So, 2Ls: Don't give up hope for a summer 2010 spot just yet.

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