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Law Offices Stick With Summer Associate Programs Despite Virus

June 11, 2020, 10:03 PM

The vast majority of U.S. law firm offices in a new survey are sticking with their original plans to hold summer associate programs, but many are shortening them and holding them virtually due to coronavirus concerns.

Covid-19 has led law offices to close their doors across the country and to send lawyers and other employees to work from home, but according to the new data from the National Association for Law Placement, law firms largely have spared summer programs.

This is likely because these programs form a key piece of the pipeline for new legal talent. In recent years, firms have reported extending job offers to 98% of their summer associates, earlier NALP data said.

Some 86% of offices which originally planned to host a 2020 summer program are continuing to do so, the new NALP survey found. The association conducted the survey in May, and heard from around 400 law office respondents total, nearly 360 of which had planned to host summer associates.

Around two-thirds of those offices surveyed said they had opted for a shorter summer program of 5 to 6 weeks, rather than the conventional 10 weeks. More than half of offices responding, 55%, said their summer program would be completely virtual, raising the prospect that customary summer social events such as cocktail parties as well as work-related meetings and conversations with firm attorneys would be held over phone and video conferencing.

The completely virtual programs were being hosted by offices mostly located in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast , which have been hard hit by Covid-19.

Some other offices said they were planning a hybrid model where virtual and in-person experiences are combined. Only 5% told NALP that they intend to have an entirely in-person program; those offices are not identified in the survey.

For those that have canceled their summer program, most said they were making offers to at least some second-year students to return after graduation next year to become full-time associates.

Others announced a switch to a condensed, virtual summer program, and said they would extend offers to 2L participants to rejoin the firm as first-year associates.

Firms are not eliminating summer programs largely because they experienced a legal talent gap following the 2008 recession when layoffs and truncated summer programs interrupted the flow of law school graduates joining their ranks. For several years afterwards, firms trying to recover from the economic turmoil had to contend with thinned ranks of associates.

In Big Law, only a few firms, such as Pepper Hamilton, Troutman Sanders, and Seyfarth Shaw have pulled the plug entirely on their summer programs.

The more common approach has been shortened virtual programs, adopted by firms like Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Kirkland & Ellis, and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.

In addition to law firms, Covid-19 driven changes have also been made widely by law schools on their side of the recruitment process.

In a separate survey of its law school members, NALP said about half of those responding had set dates for law firm recruiters to visit campus to screen students for 2021 summer associate positions. But most campuses had changed their screening dates from this summer to January or February of next year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at egolson1@gmail.com
To contact the editor on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com
Tom Taylor in Washington at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com

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