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Gloria Cannon In The Daily Journal

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Gloria Cannon In The Daily Journal

APRIL 8, 2010 | LAW PRACTICESummers Receiving Fewer OffersBy Kari Hamanaka

Daily Journal Staff Writer

Summer associates at law firms suffered a dramatic decline in the number of full-time job offers they received last year, and that trend is expected to continue in 2010, casting major doubt on the recruiting prospects for aspiring lawyers in California and the rest of the nation, according to new figures from the National Association for Law Placement.

“The main take away from the [NALP] Perspectives report is that 2009 marked an unprecedented constriction in legal recruiting volume, the sharpest constriction we have seen since NALP began collecting this data nearly 20 years ago,” said the group’s executive director, James Leipold. “If we had data going back far enough, it would probably show the sharpest constriction in more than 50 years.”

Nationally, offers made to summer 2009 associates fell 21 percent from the year-earlier period, the study found. Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose area firms all reported double-digit declines in the number of offers they made to their 2009 summer associates.

The rate of job offers to Los Angeles area summer associates was 78.5 percent, down from 90 percent a year before. In San Jose, 73.3 percent of summers received offers, down from 94.7 percent in 2008. The most dramatic plunge was in San Francisco, where only 55.8 percent of summer 2009 program participants received offers, falling from 91.9 percent in 2008.

In Los Angeles, one firm, Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP, said it planned to keep its 2010 summer class the same size as last year’s. A spokesperson for Latham & Watkins LLP declined comment on its summer 2010 program plans.

It appears firms throughout California are cutting the size of their summer programs. Firms in the Los Angeles area averaged nine summer associate positions in 2010, down from the average of 16 positions in 2009 summer programs. In San Francisco, summer 2010 offers totaled an average of 8, down from 19 for the 2009 program.

Seth Weiner, president of Loyola Law School’s Day Student Bar Association and a third-year student, said his peers who graduated in the last couple of years are managing to find work, if not their legal dream jobs.

“At the same time, I hear over and over again that this is a job market that people have not seen in maybe a generation and it is a lot harder to find work,” Weiner said. “I have seen students who have been accepted at very respected, competitive firms who are offered positions right away, but then were given deferments.”

He said students in the most recent graduating class told him their start dates were pushed back as much as a year.

“Even though the economy seems to show some minimal recovery, law firms are not in the lead in terms of hiring back, and they’re going to be very cautious,” said Jill Levin, principal at Levin & Associates. “It doesn’t mean that they don’t need to bring in new associates to train, but the numbers will be smaller.”

Levin said she anticipates little change in the short term.

“I don’t expect a big uptick in young associate hiring this year and I don’t know what next year will bring,” Levin said, “but I imagine next year will be slow.”

With the reality being that job offers are diminishing, others said the real number to focus on is start date deferrals.

“If you were a 2009 grad, it was definitely a very tough year for those associates because, for many of them, offers were rescinded,” said Gloria Noh Cannon, director of Lateral Link Group LLC. “A lot of associates were deferred.”

For summer 2009, 57.1 percent of offers at Los Angeles area firms had deferred start dates, according to NALP. In San Francisco, 59 percent of offers made had deferred starts.

“We are hearing from quite a few [firms] where the associates do have offers to return, but there are firms still pushing back or rescinding [offers],” Noh Cannon said. “It’s a mixed bag at this point.”

She said as firms come to grips with hiring budgets they will be able to reassess their business models and move forward with job offers. But she also said openings at firms in the coming years are unlikely to resemble numbers seen in the past.

“It’s such a competitive market right now because the talent level is nothing like anyone has seen,” Noh Cannon said. “Firms can be very picky right now and they’re being very deliberate in their hiring process as they should be.”