Law schools report competitive recruiting season

While the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered the course of the 2020 law firm recruiting season, law firms as well as law schools and law students achieved a competitive summer 2021 recruiting season in winter 2021 instead of summer/fall 2020.

The findings are part of National Association for Law Placement’s (NALP) Perspectives on 2020-21 Law Student Recruiting report.

Because of the changes in timing of On Campus Interviewing for the 2020-21 recruiting cycle due to the pandemic, NALP’s typical fall recruiting surveys were split into two collection timeframes.

The 2020-21 Perspectives report includes analysis from data collected in the fall 2020 Survey of Legal Employers on Summer Outcomes and First-Year Associate Plans and two spring 2021 Surveys of Law Schools and Legal Employers on 2020-21 Recruiting.

“Amidst the pandemic interruptions and uncertainties there was an overall net decline in recruiting activity,” said NALP Executive Director James G. Leipold. “Schools reported fewer employers interviewing students for summer programs and law firms reported recruiting at fewer campuses for summer programs, and both median and average offer numbers fell.”

Despite a year in which many large law firms saw increases in profitability, across almost all metrics NALP measured declines in recruiting activity.

“Many large law firms reported significant revenue and profit gain figures for 2020, though at the onset of the pandemic there was considerable uncertainty about what the demand for legal services would be and how deeply the pandemic-recession would affect law firm bottom lines, which may account for some of the conservative approach firms seemed to have taken in shaping summer 2021 programs,” Leipold continued, adding that nearly all the 2020-21 recruiting cycle numbers need an asterisk or footnote to explain that they are not comparable to the data in the years that preceded 2020, or the years that follow.

“There is a story that emerges, however, despite the asterisks, and that is one of both resilience and caution. Firms made conservative decisions about future talent at a moment when the future was uncertain.”

In retrospect, he said, some of those decisions “may prove to have been too conservative, and indeed we see that some of the figures measured in this recruiting cycle approach some of the low water marks reached in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession.”

He added, however, that by but “flexing hard and leaning into a new timeline and new technology, large law firms and law schools were able to complete the annual dance of recruitment, offer and acceptance, despite the syncopated rhythm that must have felt at times a bit like a game of musical chairs.”

Some key findings include:

• For summer 2021, 53 percent of offices/firms planned to host an entirely in-person summer program, 34 percent planned a hybrid program with some in-person and some virtual components, eight percent planned to host an entirely in-person program, and five percent had not yet determined their program format at the time of the survey. In summer 2020, 86 percent of all summer programs were virtual.

• The percentage of callback interviews that resulted in offers for 2021 summer programs fell to 50 percent, down from 51 percent the previous year. The yield on those offers jumped by nearly five full percentage points, to just over 41 percent, a figure eclipsed only by the yield of 43 percent measured in 2009.

• Overall, the median number of offers extended by offices/firms to second-year students for summer 2021 programs was eight offers, down from a median of 11 offers for summer 2020.