Law firm hiring faltered in fall, with fewer offers and smaller class sizes for summer 2013

While the legal sector saw small net gains in overall employment in 2012, entry-level hiring continued to be sluggish, according to a new report by NALP, the association for legal career professionals.

"We have seen some faltering in recruiting volumes this past fall and that reflects the continuing faltering in the larger legal economy,” said James Leipold, NALP’s Executive Director. “I would expect flat and faltering to be characteristics of the entry-level law firm hiring market going forward, at least for the short and even medium term.”

Law firms have increased their entry-level hiring compared to 2008 and 2009. But the modest increases in 2010 and 2011 did not continue in 2012. Some law firms seemed to put the brakes on in 2012 and both the median and average number of offers made to second-years for summer associate positions in 2013 fell. The percent of interviews that resulted in offers also fell after two years of gains.

Law firms continue to bring in smaller summer classes. The average summer class was nine in 2012, up only one person from the historic low of 8 in 2010 and 2011. And few firms — only 19 percent — interviewed third year students for full-time positions.

“As law firms battle for market share and compete within a global marketplace that is driving the price of legal services down, law firms continue to be cautious about bringing in more lawyers than they can confidently keep busy,” Leipold said.

The median number of offers made by law firms to second-year students fell from 10 to 8, and the mean number of offers fell from 22 to 20. While higher than the historic lows of 7 and 16 in 2009, the figures are well below 2007 numbers.

The report concludes that “law firms remain cautious in their first-year hiring, unwilling to make commitments to large numbers of new law school graduates at a time when client behavior and the demand for legal services continue to be uncertain.