With the beginning of a new school year just around the corner, many rising second-year law students are wondering exactly which firms will they see on campus recruiting for summer associate programs. Vault's managing editor, Brian Dalton, blogged about impending doom for summer programs two weeks ago, and it seems "Armageddon" really is right around the corner.
When Brian wrote his blog post, Morgan Lewis had just cancelled OCI and its summer associate program for 2010. Since then, a number of smaller law firms have followed suit. According to The Shark blog, Ballard Spahr, Milbank (only in the Los Angeles office), Seyfarth Shaw, Squire Sanders, Thompson Hine have canceled their 2010 summer programs, and one can only assume that more cancellations are coming soon. (To track all the law firm recruiting changes, The Shark has compiled a nifty "Table of Doom" to which they add updates as they receive them.)
As Paul Lippe points out, and Brian Dalton seconds, the format of law student recruiting is clearly undergoing a sea change. A fundamental piece of the BigLaw recruiting puzzle is being removed--until now, the real selection for a firm's first-year associate class was during hiring for its summer program. The traditional, pre-2009 path to a BigLaw first-year associate program went something like this: a rising 3L participates in OCI and is hired for a summer associate program; she finishes the program and, performing well, receives an invitation to join the first-year associate class after graduation; accepting the offer, the student returns to law school to finish her JD, with employment already in the bag. The summer associate program was a test-run for both employer and employee, and a spot as an associate after graduation was near impossible without a summer associate position. For the employer, however, it was an expensive test-run; one that, when it came down to it, they could do without.
So, with OCI and summer associate programs canceled, what will the Class of 2011 do? One assumes that they will pursue other avenues of summer and postgrad employment at smaller, boutique firms, in-house legal departments, nonprofit organizations and public sector employers. But once BigLaw firms are back on board for OCI, will summer programs return? Or will they hire first-year associates without test-driving them first? How will law schools adapt to help their students?
Like Brian, I will end my post with a quote from Lippe: "The road ahead will be long and full of change."
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