As many as 11 Boies Schiller Flexner summer associates in New York declined full-time job offers last year, according to sources familiar with the situation, a sign the litigation powerhouse’s reputation has taken a hit on the recruiting trail.
The firm says it is hiring three first-year associates in New York following a 14-person summer associate program in 2019. One source said one of the summer associates was not offered a position at the firm, with the rest declining to join the firm to pursue opportunities at law firms or clerkships.
Boies Schiller’s recruiting troubles occur as the firm is trying to turn the corner with new leadership after last year experiencing nearly 60 partner departures, including prominent lawyers who represent companies including Facebook Inc., Uber Technologies Inc., Apple Inc., and Barclays PLC.
“It’s not hard to understand why in this time of increased risk and stress for all young associates that a top, first-year associate who has other options would opt to accept a different opportunity, given the current publicly available information,” Wendy Schoen, CEO and managing partner of Schoen Legal Search, said. “Unless a firm is in significant trouble, I can’t imagine it having that many rejections.”
Across Big Law firms, nearly 88% of summer associates this year accepted the job offers they were extended by their law firms, according to data from the National Association for Law Placement, Inc., which tracks industry employment trends. That number has hovered between 73% and 77% in most years after the Great Recession, which impacted law firm hiring, NALP says.
“We are delighted to welcome three exceptional and diverse young lawyers joining our New York office this month, as well as the other new lawyers joining our offices throughout the country,” managing partner Matthew Schwartz said in a statement to Bloomberg Law. The firm declined further comment on specifics of its summer program.
The firm’s co-managing partner, Nicholas Gravante, departed this month after spending much of last year publicly defending a plan to slim down its roster of lawyers as the business transitioned away from relying on its famous founder and chair, 79-year-old David Boies. More quietly, Gravante had advocated a merger with the firm he recently joined, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Bloomberg Law has reported.
Last month the firm announced yet another leadership shake-up, promoting London-based Natasha Harrison to deputy chair, with Boies describing her in an interview with Bloomberg Law as his heir apparent to run the firm.
For Big Law firms, summer associate programs are internships giving soon-to-be lawyers a chance to meet a firm’s partners and associates while doing some work on matters. Virtually all of the participants are offered full-time jobs for the next year after they have passed the bar exam. For instance, firms offered full-time jobs to 98% of summer associates in 2019, NALP data show.
First-year associates typically start work in the fall, and high-end firms like Boies Schiller pay a standard salary, which currently sits at $190,000 a year plus bonuses.
Breaking with the rest of the industry, Boies Schiller last month said it would provide a $20,000 bonus to its incoming class of first-year associates, who are slated to start at the firm this month. Those associates would have been “summers,” in industry lingo, during 2019.
The firm at the time did not say how many first-year associates would be joining the firm this year.
One reason some summers declined the opportunity at Boies Schiller, according to a former partner, was that the partners they had worked with at the firm some 18 months ago no longer worked there.
At least one Boies Schiller summer associate is slated to start work this month at King & Spalding, which hired roughly 20 partners from Boies Schiller in 2020. A King & Spalding spokeswoman said the firm had no comment.
Schoen, the legal recruiter, said firms are competing for talented associates in their litigation practices, the area for which Boies Schiller has long been lauded. The hot demand has been caused by a backlog of cases built up while the pandemic put trials on pause.
“Everybody is gearing up their teams,” Schoen said. “There are litigation openings across the Am Law 100.”