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January 4, 2010 9:30 AM

The Future of Summer Associate Recruiting

Posted by Zach Lowe

A 17-person commission discussing a possible overhaul on how law firms and law schools organize the recruiting process for summer associates will release its preliminary recommendations this month. The report is expected to include major suggested changes, according to sources who either have seen it or have been briefed on its contents. 

Among the recommendations, according to three sources familiar with the report: Setting a date, likely sometime in late fall, before which firms would be prohibited from making offers to prospective summers. That proposed structure would replace the current system, under which firms can make offers to prospective summer associates at any time after interviewing them and then must leave those offers open for 45 days.

The keeper of all such guidelines and the body that established the commission earlier this year is the National Association for Law Placement, which crafts recruiting guidelines together with firms and law schools. The organization, known as NALP, does not have the authority to punish firms who violate the guidelines, but informal carrots and sticks exist; when Sullivan & Cromwell asked 2Ls this fall to respond to its offers within two weeks, Harvard Law School threatened to ban S&C from its campus during the fall recruiting season. The firm eventually relented and obeyed the 45-day rule.

As we've reported before, few people are perfectly content with the current recruiting system. Firm recruiters have objected more and more loudly as top schools, in a race to be the first to get their students in front of firm recruiters, have moved on-campus interview dates into August and September. Interviewing so early, firm recruiters have said, amounts to asking firms to make hiring decisions two years in advance based on a single year of law school performance. And people on all sides have said 45 days may be too long to keep an offer open. 

The sources we've spoken to say the system most likely to receive the NALP commission's recommendation would be one which prohibits firms from making any offers before a certain date and then reduces the subsequent period during which an offer must remain open. 

About 10 members of the NALP commission, including its co-chairs (Morgan Smith, recruiting director at Mayer Brown, and Terrence Galligan, assistant dean at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law--Boalt Hall) declined to comment when we called them for details. Commission members said the group had resolved not to discuss the report with the press before briefing NALP's full membership and making part of the report public. James Leipold, executive director of NALP, also declined to comment, citing the same reasons. 

But three different sources with knowledge of the report confirmed to us that the structure outlined above is likely to receive the commission's recommendation. 

Stay tuned.

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Interviews and offers for summer associate jobs should not occur until January of 2L year, by which time three semesters of grades are complete. What's the rush to do it at the start of the academic year?

Agreed that recruiting in August is far too early. But waiting till January with the hopes of getting a third semester of grades has at least two fallacies: (1) that grades have a correlation to performance as a lawyer, and (2) that grades will even be available for interviews in January. That is far too kind an assumption about professors' turn around.

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