The Talent

July 21, 2010 6:00 AM

Summer Hiring Survey: 44 Percent Down in 2010

Posted by Nicole Hong


Law school students faced one of the roughest hiring seasons ever this summer, as firms cut their summer classes by an average of 44 percent, according to our Summer Hiring Survey. The 114 firms that responded to the survey hired an average of 31 summer associates this year, down from last year's average of 55 associates. (The complete results of the survey are detailed in the chart below; the survey is arranged starting with the highest percentage drop year-over-year in the number of summer associates hired for 2010 on to the highest percentage growth.)

Some of the biggest cuts came from the top of The A-List. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom took the most severe hit in gross numbers, going from 223 summer associates in 2009 to 79 this year. Cravath, Swaine & Moore's summer class shrank by 81 percent to just 23 summer associates, the biggest percentage decrease in the survey--except for Ballard Spahr, which cut its summer program entirely. Skadden and Cravath declined to comment, and Ballard Spahr did not return calls for comment.

Of all the firms surveyed, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Latham & Watkins welcomed the largest classes of summer associates: 110 summer associates each. However, that number still represents a decline from 2009, when both firms had about 150 summer associates.

"Obviously we were in the midst of one of the greatest economic downturns in recent history last year," says Steven Sletten, chair of Gibson, Dunn's firmwide hiring committee, commenting on the decrease. "We had to make adjustments on the margin and thought it was prudent to reduce the size of the summer program somewhat." He says he does not expect the size of next year's program to be dramatically different from this year's. Latham did not return calls for comment.

Ropes & Gray also saw a significant decrease in the size of its summer program--from 200 to 82. Director of legal recruiting Helen Long says that's because in late 2008 Ropes hired its largest summer class ever, due to what was then a robust demand in private equity and securities work.

But it's not completely doom and gloom. Eleven firms either maintained or increased the size of their summer classes, with Hinshaw & Culbertson and Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi reporting increases of 50 percent or more. Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge even added a summer program of six associates after not having one last summer. (None of these firms returned calls for comment.) Intellectual property firm Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear increased its summer program by 48 percent, a jump from 27 to 40 associates. The firm's volume of work grew with the recession because companies became more aggressive about protecting their patents and preventing copyright infringement, says managing partner Steven Nataupsky.

The grim numbers translated into new challenges for law schools. Beth Moeller, the assistant dean for career services at UCLA School of Law, says she knew the summer of 2010 would be unusually slow when law firm recruiters started to cancel interview slots--and even entire summer programs--as early as spring 2009. UCLA has adapted by beefing up its outreach to government agencies and alumni as potential employers. "I was here in 2001 after the dot-com bubble and we saw a drop-off, but it wasn't as dramatic as this time," Moeller said.

Due to the increasingly competitive environment, many law firms have noticed not only a higher yield rate on permanent job offers, but also more rapid acceptances. Moeller said she has been encouraging students to respond to offers more quickly to help their classmates being held on waiting lists.

Although many firms are cautiously optimistic about accommodating slightly larger classes next summer, it seems likely that even many top students will be holding fewer job offers than normal. "I know that it used to be if you went to a Top Ten law school and if you were in the top three-fourths of the class, you had it made," Long said. "I'm not sure that that's the case anymore."

(Update: Jones Day did not respond to our survey, but after publication, the firm contacted us to provide its summer associate hiring data. Jones Day reports that it had 124 summer associates this year, a 40 percent decrease from its 206 summer associates in 2009.)

2010 Summer Hiring Survey 

Photo: Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images

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This is a very interesting, yet intimidating article. The fact that many of the biggest law firms are cutting their summer associate programs all together, does not bode well for future attorneys. However, there is some good news, 4 out of the 5 big firms in Texas are actually increasing the size of their summer programs for 2011. Although many states are downsizing their summer associates, it is nice to know that some firms are still looking to bolster their programs.

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