As the summer draws to a close, law students finally have something to smile about. For those hoping to land a summer associate position next year, the forecast looks good.
According to the Am Law Daily, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, which cut its class from 123 summer associates in 2009 to just 23 summers for 2010, will be boosting their numbers to 75 for next summer. While still a steep cut from its pre-recession stride, this represents more than a tripling of available positions at that firm. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom had 79 summer associates this year, down from 225 in 2009. In the upcoming recruiting season, they are looking to bring their numbers back over 100. Ropes & Gray will exhibit a similarly tentative hiring increase by moving up from its current summer associate size of 89 but staying closer to 100 than its previous summer class size of 200. Jones Day, Proskauer Rose, Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton are other firms that are poised to hold their summer class size or make modest increases according to more data from The Am Law Daily .
Additionally, several firms have boosted associate salaries. Above the Law reports that the D.C. Office of Covington & Burling is unfreezing associate pay after the California Office did the same earlier in the year. At Sheppard Mullin, first-year associate salaries returned to $160,000 after hitting the $145,000 range earlier this year.
Finally, Despite concerns that this year's class of summer associates would be shut-out by depressed hiring at the end of the season, the Philadelphia firm Pepper Hamilton extended job offers to 100 percent of its summer class according to a post by Above the Law. The D.C. Branch of Latham & Watkins followed with a similar performance: all of its summer associates were extended offers and given incentives to commit on the spot. In an uncertain economic climate, risk-averse law students may be more inclined than usual to accept these offers. However, given various signs of revival in the legal profession, well-qualified students might do well to pause. Firms have a much better sense of the direction of the market than students, and it is to their advantage to play students against their insecurities to create more favorable hiring conditions. If the hiring field now is more favorable than it was when firms were interviewing their summer classes, some firms may want more first-year associates than they had in their summer class. Don't 100 percent offers signal something along those lines? This also means that a student who settled on a summer position may be able to trade up. At the very least, students should remember to bring up important issues such as billable hours, benefits, and firm culture and diversity before allowing a firm to sweep them off their feet. It may not be a student's market, but it is still wise to think twice about the important decision of a first job.
Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School. BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.