Feb 27, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Law firms with more than 700 lawyers hired fewer summer associates in 2017, according to new data from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) as reported by The American Lawyer. Not only was it more difficult for law associate to land jobs last summer, but the numbers also revealed the first drop in summer associate hiring since 2012. Here’s a closer look at the phenomenon, along with what it means for aspiring lawyers.

A Meaningful Dip

Summer associate classes in individual firm offices at larger firms had an average size of 20 in 2017 compared to 22 in 2016.

In speaking to a group of law firm recruiters and law school career administrators at NALP’s annual recruiting summit, the organizations executive director James Leipold said, “This is a meaningful dip in recruiting at the largest firms. For the last three or four years, we had this bump in Big Law recruiting as they regrew their summer classes. That has ended."

Multiple Causes

Experts attribute the slowdown to a number of factors, starting with the fact that many larger law firms have finally caught up in their efforts to rebuild their summer associate programs following cuts during the recession.

Additionally, sluggish demand for law firm services, an unwillingness among law firms to pay high for young talent, and a shift in law office work flow may be to blame. Said Citi Private Bank’s law firms group head of advisory services Gretta Rusanow, “The industry has moved away from its dependence on associates.”

More of the Same?

The decline is anticipated to continue in 2018, and has in fact already started -- beginning with a 20 percent drop in the number of summer associate offers extended to incoming second-year law students last fall.

But this doesn’t mean aspiring summer law associates don’t have options -- particularly if they know where to look. Continued Leipold, “Some firms have really cut back their summer programs, and some have grown.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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