After recession-era declines, law firm recruiting inches up

After losing more than 45,000 jobs during the recession, the legal sector continued to erode jobs, albeit at a much slower pace, through the end of 2011, even as the national employment picture began to improve.

That was among the key findings reported in the Association for Legal Career Professionals' (NALP) just-released Perspectives on Fall 2011 Law Student Recruiting, an annual report based on NALP surveys on selected aspects of fall recruitment activity and the experiences of both legal employers and law schools.

"This is not a hot recruiting market," says NALP Executive Director James Leipold. "But this sort of modest growth may well represent the best we can hope for with year on year comparisons going forward. I would anticipate volatility in the recruiting market for some time. For instance, 2012 is off to a slow start economically for law firms, and we may see that reflected in the recruiting numbers this August."

While entry-level recruiting volumes have not returned to the robust levels routinely measured in the years leading up to the recession, 2011 marked the second year in a row in which law firms returned to law school campuses in somewhat greater numbers than the year before after slashing their recruiting efforts in 2008 and 2009.

Despite the additional recruiting volume, law firms continue to bring in small summer classes, barely increasing class size from recession-era lows. By contrast, offer rates have returned to the highs seen before the recession as firms follow through with their stated intent to make offers to the majority of their summer associates when they can. For the third year in a row, few firms ventured back into the 3L market, and thus, students with offers from their summer program found few competing offers on the table.

In 2011, both law schools and law firms reported a net increase in recruiting activity as measured by the number of campus visits made, though in the aggregate both schools and firms reported both increases and decreases, with the numbers reporting increases edging out those reporting decreases in almost every market.

With the continued dramatic constriction of the 3L hiring market, success in the 2L market has become all the more important for law students, the study found. Competition for one of the coveted summer associate spots is likely to remain keen for the foreseeable future, as law firms are likely to remain conservative in their overall approach to entry-level hiring.

To read the full report including all of the data tables go to www.nalp.org/perspectivesonfallrecruiting.

Published: Mon, Mar 19, 2012

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