Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Major Life Decisions: The Law Firm Edition

I picked a summer job on Friday. I was fortunate enough to have a few options among excellent firms, and I picked the place that seemed the best for me. I felt good about it when I made the decision.

In economies past, my work would be done. I could sit back, relax, and enjoy several fancy lunches a week and an eventual offer for full-time employment. However, times have changed---whether firms want you to believe that or not.

Law Firms: “Pay no attention to the economy behind the curtain!”

The Law Firm Hiring Model: A Primer

Large law firms (“Big Law”) generally hire new associates over a several year time span. In the summer after a law student’s first year, they interview for summer jobs that they will hold after their second year. These summer jobs often result in job offers to return for full-time employment after graduation. This means that new employees start at firms in a large group, called a “class.” You move through the firm with members of your class, and in many places distinctions are made about the work you can do based on your class year. A new class starts every year to do the work that the year-older class is now too senior to do. The model assumes that people will leave at some point and do something more personally/professionally satisfying than law firm grunt work.

Ever Heard the Acronym “FUBAR”?
Everything is different now. The economy tanked, people stopped leaving their cushy law firm jobs, but there wasn’t enough work to go around. Firms started laying people off. When this didn’t work, firms started telling students they’d hired for 2009 to bug off. Then, firms reduced the number of offers they gave to their 2009 summer associates in an effort to reduce the incoming class of 2010. But firms are still in a pickle, so their overcompensating with students in my year by cutting their summer hiring dramatically, by more than half in many cases. Whereas last year, a student with great grades at X law school could traditionally expect a job at Y--Z kinds of firms, that same student now can’t even get a second interview anywhere.

I was lucky enough to have choices for a number of reasons, but accepting an offer is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m banking on the economic stability of the firm I chose, of the office I’ll be working in, and of their ability to hire me after my summer is done (assuming I do great work, which I will).

Alright, before I continue, excuse me for a moment while I put on the appropriate eyewear...

Okay, now I’m ready.
Class of 2011, We’re Not As Screwed as They Say.
  1. EIP is no longer the only game in town. EIP (Early Interview Program) and OCI (On Campus Interviews) were rough. I know. People didn’t get the jobs they thought they’d get. Many people still don’t have offers. Many people still don’t have second interviews. I know, I know. But here’s the thing: firms are over-compensating right now. Not only are they hiring few people, but they’re all hiring the same people. These people can only accept one offer. As the NALP 45-day deadlines approach, firms will need to reassess their hiring needs as they realize that their summer programs are empty.

  2. Hiring will be continual over the year as firms reassess their needs. As a corollary to #1, I expect we will see multiple OCIs this year as firms continually reassess their needs. I expect October/November, January/February, and even March/April OCIs will become commonplace as firms get more work and realize they need more students.

  3. Offer rates this summer will be higher. Many firms took a large publicity hit when they no-offered large chunks of their summer class. To portray the image that they have recovered (even if they haven’t), firms will err on the side of caution in summer hiring, and I believe will be unlikely to hire more people than they can safely make offers to at this point. This overabundance of caution is making it difficult to get a job on the front-end, but should make it easier to get a job on the tail end.

  4. Our class year will be smaller, increasing our possibilities for advancement once employed. Compared to larger classes (or what remains of them after layoffs), the class of 2011 will be relatively tiny. There will be fewer people to choose from when it comes time for us to do fun stuff (i.e., depositions), or when it’s time to decide who gets to make partner. I don’t think of myself as being on a linear partnership track, so this part doesn’t so much apply to me, but still, you’ve gotta think of that as good news.

...So, those are my thoughts. I’m trying to be optimistic, and I feel lucky to have made a decision with a place I like a lot. Now the toughest part will be taking stories about my firm on AbovetheLaw.com in stride.

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