A recent article by Karen Sloan for The National Law Journal entitled, “Associate Hiring: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back” characterizes what the legal industry is seeing in terms of summer associate class sizes and entry-level associate hiring. Her general take is just as the title of her article suggests. There are certainly some positives as far as what the recent numbers are showing, yet, when considered in light of where hiring levels were in pre-recession times, it is clear that the industry is still undoubtedly recovering.
Some of the key points from the article are as follows. First, summer associate class sizes rose from an average of 9 to 11. However, the median class size stayed steady at 5, suggesting there were a few firms with very large classes potentially skewing the data. Additionally, 92% of summer associates were offered permanent placement after completion of their programs, which is certainly a positive development in that the proportion offered employment is nearly back to pre-recession levels. However, it is also important to remember that class sizes are still substantially smaller, meaning the industry is still lagging in terms of total summer associate-to-associate hires. Similarly, more summer associates who interviewed were offered jobs this year, up from 44% to 47%. In the same way though, this still remains well below the mark of 63% set back in 2006. Finally, another trend the industry is seeing is that competition for top entry-level candidates remains high—and the anticipation, according to Jim Leipold, executive director of NALP, is that “there will be further stratification in the market”, meaning some firms will increase class sizes, others will reduce them or leave them flat.
The bottom line? A number of firms are starting to hire more summer associates again, particularly some of the larger firms. More summer associates are also being offered full-time positions upon completion of the program. However, class sizes on the whole are still significantly smaller than they used to be, and it remains to be seen when, if ever, associate hiring will return to pre-recession levels.