For younger law students, the recession won’t really start until 2010.
Recent accounts from firm partners and school career counselors sketch a sobering portrait of the job outlook. With no sign of a lasting rebound in the wider economy, some law firm leaders are playing it safe by reducing their 2010 summer programs or skipping them altogether. Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold, for example, is planning to sit one year out. Gordon & Rees is doing some deeper soul searching. Still others don’t yet know what, if any, changes they might make.
“Whether or not the economy comes back, I do think that corporate America has forced law firms to re-examine their model,” Gordon & Rees managing partner Dion Cominos said. “Having well-compensated attorneys fresh out of law school that are charging several hundred dollars an hour for what the clients perceive as training — I think there’s a rebellion against that.” He said that no decision has been made, but that all options are on the table: “We may retain a more limited program or go without it for a year and see how it goes.”
The latest predictions of adjustments come on the heels of dramatic cuts firms have already made to 2009 summer stints, when some reduced the number of associates by 30 percent to 50 percent, according to NALP figures. While no statistics are available yet for summer 2010, anecdotal evidence abounds.
Paul Glad, the San Francisco office managing partner at Am Law 100 firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, said that students will be facing a very different year. “It is my sense from talking to my peers [at other firms] that they are dramatically scaling back the number of people they’re looking for in their fall on-campus interviews,” he said. Firmwide, Sonnenschein reduced its summer class from about 38 in 2008 to about 17 in 2009, Glad said. “We will be scaling back interviewing for fall, but we haven’t put numbers on it.”
Sari Zimmerman, the career office director at Hastings College of the Law, said a smaller number of law firms have so far signed up for on-campus interviews at her school and, she’s heard, at other law schools in the area. She declined to specify numbers, saying only that the drop was significant.
“To a certain extent — not that it’s up to them — but there will definitely be a lot of people who have different jobs from what they expected to have,” Zimmerman said. “The pipeline to larger firm practice will be narrower.”
With registration open through July and even later at many schools, the number of employers interviewing could still change, law school officials noted.
The University of San Francisco School of Law, where most students don’t rely on on-campus interviews, doesn’t have the data to compare registration so far with the same time last spring. Still, Bryan Hinkle, the director of the career planning office, said in an e-mail, “While the data is premature, I think that most schools are bracing for reduced participation overall, a shift to resume collection instead of on-campus interviews, and decreases in interview schedules, callbacks and offers.” Eight percent of employers who took part in OCI last year have moved to resume collection this year, he added.
For those who do rely on fall recruiting, OCI may be the new callback.
When 240-lawyer Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis, known for its California-wide real estate practice, hits campuses this autumn, its recruiters will be paying closer attention to why students signed up for interviews with the firm.
“Students in the past just would ride on their grades and the school and their interviewing skills. But do they really want to be at our firm, or are they just filling their schedules because they can?” Lorraine Connally, a non-lawyer in charge of summer programs, said. “It will be more important for students to know a bit more about the firm going into OCI interviews, as opposed to waiting for the callback to make their case.”