The Firms

July 23, 2009 3:09 PM

Law Schools Brace for Challenging Recruiting Season

Posted by Rachel Breitman

The dog days of summer haven't hit yet, but already there's a chill in the air on law school campuses. 

As firms backtrack on promises to recruit summer associates, law schools are working overtime to get their rising 2Ls ready for a tough recruiting season. School officials say students will have to work harder than ever to land summer associate spots that used to be a given. 

"Some firms have canceled; others have reduced the number of recruits," says Heather Frattone associate dean for career planning and placement at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Two Philadelphia-based firms, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll have already canceled their summer associate programs for 2010. 

With fewer big-firm options for students who want to stay in the area, Frattone has encouraged students to think outside the box.

"We've been trying to help raise students' awareness that they may need to start their careers at regional firms, smaller firms, local firms, or in government jobs," she says.

Before canceling their summer programs, Morgan Lewis and Ballard Spahr had already told current summer associates that their full-time associateships would be deferred until 2011. That means students now working at the firms won't be offered full-time jobs until at least a year after they graduate. 

Other firms that have also deferred full-time job offers for students already working as summer associates include Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; White & Case; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and Ropes & Gray.

Those still recruiting for next year's summer associates are proceeding with caution.

"We are going back to on-campus recruiting in August, but we've cut back on the number of schools and job fairs, eliminating six or seven schools from our list," says Thomas Leatherbury, hiring partner at Vinson & Elkins, who tried unsuccessfully to get schools to push back their job fairs to later in the year. "It's too early to tell what we'll do next year or exactly how many people we'll need."

Even firms that say they will need the same number of summer associates next year expect to make fewer offers, because the smaller pool of firms recruiting summer associates is likely to drive up acceptance rates.

"If we want an appropriate-sized class, we need to be careful about the number of offers we make," says the chairman of one firm, who asked that his name not be used."

To help students stay competitive amid slimmer pickings, University of Michigan Law School has added class-wide conference calls this summer to contact 2Ls about preparing for on-campus recruiting.

"We have stepped up our efforts to review resumes and bid lists to really match applicants well with the firms that are recruiting," says Susan Guindi, the school's assistant dean of the Office of Career Services.

Like Frattone, she's advising students to look for jobs in unexpected places.

"This is not the year to go to a firm in your dream city," Guindi says. "If you are from a small city, you may want to go back there or look outside the popular markets."



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