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Hires Fresh From Law School Start Late on Pandemic Uncertainty

Dec. 16, 2020, 5:02 AM

Most law school graduates hired as first-year associates will start work after the new year, months later than usual because of uncertainties from the coronavirus pandemic, a survey released Wednesday said.

Of firms surveyed, 55.2% said the start date was January or February, according to the National Association for Law Placement. By comparison, 41.6% planned to bring first-year associates on board in the last four months of 2020, and 3.2% hadn’t decided when the new hires will begin.

The survey is another indication of how the coronavirus pandemic has upset norms in the legal industry. Third-year law students typically finish school in May, study for the bar after graduation and begin practicing at a law firms in September or October.

Firms pushed back start dates earlier this year as they girded against an expected decline in business due to the pandemic. Of those offices that changed the starting dates, more than half offered stipends, cash payments or advance salaries to tide the new associates over.

The survey also showed firms are striving to keep hiring channels open. The job-offer rate for students who participated in firms’ summer programs this year was nearly 97%, just under last year’s historic-high rate of nearly 98%.

“Unlike the Great Recession more than a decade ago where we saw great interruptions, this is completely different,” said James Leipold, NALP’s executive director. “Firms are concerned about their talent pipeline.”

Out of some 5,574 participants, about 5,390 received a job offer. Most participants were second-year law students.

Some 87.8% of them—up slightly over the percentages in 2018 and 2019—accepted offers from their summer firm. Absent any setbacks in combatting the virus, they could take the bar next summer and begin at their law firms in the fall of 2021.

The average size of law firm summer classes declined to 11, from 13 last year. It had been at 14 from 2016 through 2018.

The downward trend, the NALP report said, stemmed from the gradual decrease in the size of summer classes held by the largest firms—those with 700 lawyers.

Firms also trimmed the length of the summer programs to five or six weeks, down from nine or 10 weeks last year, according to the report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson at
To contact the editor on this story: Chris Opfer at;
John Hughes at