The Talent

January 7, 2010 3:18 PM

No 2L Offers Until January?

Posted by Zach Lowe

A commission charged with revamping the recruiting of summer associates has recommended law firms and schools adopt a system in which top firms are not allowed to make formal offers until a set date in mid-January.

The commission, organized by the National Association for Law Placement, released its report this morning, and its central recommendation confirms what we reported about the commission's plans before the holidays. The commission's report is designed to address concerns from both firms and schools over a 2L recruiting schedule that has moved into August as some top schools have rushed to be first to get their students in front of firm leaders. Firms have said that interviewing so early amounts to making hiring decisions two years in advance--and several months before firms have a handle on their year-end financial data. 

The block on formal offers until mid-January is designed to end that rush and allow everyone to take their time, the report says. It also gives firms and prospective summer associates more time to get to know each other, says James Leipold, executive director of NALP. "The 20-minute on-campus interview followed by a call-back is not very sophisticated," he says. The commission also has recommended shortening the window during which firms must keep offers open from 45 days down to 14.

The response has been mostly positive so far, though it will be impossible to please everyone, Leipold and others say. The commission and NALP itself expect some push back over the mid-January date, even from those who like the idea of a prohibition on offers before a certain time, say Leipold and Carol Sprague, director of Associate/Alumni Relations & Attorney Recruiting at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and president-elect of NALP. (Sprague was also a member of the commission.) "Having the date be in January versus another time will require further discussion," Sprague says. "That is something everyone wants to talk about."

The commission is encouraging public comment through January 29, at which point it will gather feedback and issue formal recommendations. Among the anticipated concerns, according to Sprague, Leipold and other sources we spoke to today: Some firms are worried that the long gap between on-campus interviewing and a mid-January offer date means they will have to wine and dine prospective summers over the course of several months. Some top schools, including Yale, are in the midst of exams in January, and some firms might feel pressured to make all of their offers quickly instead of rolling them out gradually and getting a sense of the potential size of their summer class.

"The transition to a new regime is always difficult," Leipold says. "But all the players in the industry recognize the system we have now is not working."

Though it was the law firms that agitated loudest for a slowdown of the recruiting schedule, Leipold says the recommendations "do not bend to the demands of the firms." The "knee-jerk recommendation" among most firms, he says, was to move the entire recruiting process into the spring semester. The commission eventually rejected that suggestion, arguing it was unworkable and unfair to students who might not land an offer from a big firm. 

One constant issue with NALP rules: Firms can skirt them, since NALP lacks any formal enforcement powers. (Of course, law schools can ban such firms from interviewing on-campus, as Harvard threatened in the fall when Sullivan & Cromwell asked students to respond to offers within 14 days instead of the NALP-suggested 45 days.)

The commission accepts that what it labels "cheating" will occur under its new recommendations, usually in the form of firms letting students know--informally, of course--that they plan to make an offer once the January date hits. This sort of rule breaking does minimal damage to students, the commission says, especially in comparison with the sort of rule breaking S&C attempted under what will soon be the old system.

"No harm, no foul," the report says.

So that's the plan. Now the tough part starts: Selling people on it and implementing it. 

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