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August 11, 2011 3:15 PM

Am Law Data: Summer Associate Class Sizes Up in 2011

Posted by Tom Huddleston Jr.

After shrinking to their lowest levels in recent memory last year, summer associate classes at more than 70 leading law firms grew at least modestly this summer and the average summer class size at more than 100 firms was up 25 percent, according to The American Lawyer's latest Summer Hiring Survey.

Of the 126 firms that responded to the 2011 survey, 111 provided class-size figures for both 2010 and 2011. This summer's average class size at those 111 firms is 33.3 associates, a 25 percent increase over the 26.7 associates the same firms employed last summer. Overall, 71 of the 111 firms hired more summer associates this year than they did in 2010.

The increase in class sizes reverses last year's trend, when the 114 firms that responded to the 2010 Summer Hiring Survey reported hiring fewer summer associates than they had in 2009. On average, class sizes at those firms fell from 55 associates in 2009 to 31 in 2010, a 44 percent decline.

For complete survey results, see the interactive chart, Summer Class Sizes by Firm, 2011 v. 2010 on AmericanLawyer.com.

Much of the growth in summer class size this year came at the nation's largest law firms. Of the 111 firms that provided 2010 and 2011 data, those in The Am Law 100 reported an average class size this year of 49.2 associates, up 28 percent over last year's 38.4 associates. The growth was even greater among Am Law 50 firms, whose 2011 summer classes averaged 76.3 associates, a 36 percent rise over 2010's 56.3 associates.

The increase in class sizes was more modest among Am Law Second Hundred firms. Average class size at those firms rose just 10 percent between 2010 and 2011, going from 23.2 summer associates to 26.1.

Summer_classes400

The size of this year's summer classes says as much about the economic conditions in 2009 and 2010 and the lag in law firm recruiting as it does about current conditions, says Craig Primis, litigation partner and recruitment chairman at Kirkland & Ellis. Kirkland reported the largest gross increase in the size of its summer class between 2010 and 2011, going from 66 to 140—approaching the 160 summer associates it employed in 2009.

"All firms hired more conservatively in 2010, in light of the market situation in 2008 [and] 2009," Primis says, adding that a strong year across all practice areas allowed Kirkland to make a greater recruiting push this summer.

Among large firms, few experienced a bigger drop in class size in 2010 than Cravath, Swaine & Moore. Cravath shrunk its summer associates class 81 percent, from 123 in 2009 to just 23 last year. This year, the firm joined the trend toward larger classes by bringing in 52 summer associates, a 126 percent increase over 2010. Cravath declined a request to comment for this article.

Of the firms that provided data for both years, Latham & Watkins admitted the largest summer class in 2011. In fact, the 168 associates Latham employed this summer is not just well above the 110 it had last year, but also above the 156 associates the firm accepted in 2009.

Class sizes did not grow across the board. Dewey & LeBoeuf saw the largest drop in class size this year among Am Law 100 firms, both in terms of raw numbers and percentage (from 51 in 2010 to 29 in 2011, a 43 percent drop). Dewey did not respond to requests for comment.

In another sign that summer hiring was on the rebound this year, several firms—including Connolly, Bove; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; and Quarles & Brady—that scrapped their programs altogether last year revived them this year.

One firm that falls into that category, but does not appear on our 111-firm chart because it did not provide 2010 data when completing the Summer Hiring Survey, is Ballard Spahr

The firm accepted 36 summer associates in 2009, many of whom were forced to accept deferred offers of employment. The firm wound up cutting its summer associate program last year to make room for those deferred associates. This year, Ballard Spahr revived the program, though it took on only 14 students. Future class sizes are likely to be similarly modest, says John Grugan, the firm's hiring partner in Philadelphia.

"We view [the summer program] as integral to the firm and to building and continuing our culture,” Grugan says. “But I don't think that we're going to go back to the time when we had 25 summer associates."

Purchase the electronic version of the Summer Hiring Survey with information and details from ALM Legal Intelligence. Visit ALMLegalIntelligence.com or call 1-888-770-5647.

 

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