Several of the nation's top law firms are hiring more summer associates for the upcoming season, with a few bringing aboard significantly greater numbers of would-be lawyers than in years past.
A snapshot of some of the largest firms shows a greater demand for summer associate help than last year, which itself marked an increase for most shops compared with the previous year.
With record profits at many big firms, summer associates are a hot commodity, especially when combined with a stagnant supply of law graduates and a shrinking law school talent pool.
"We had a great recruiting year, we have lots of work and there's room for everyone," said Carol Sprague, legal hiring director at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
The 1,915-attorney New York firm is expecting 292 summer associates, an increase of 35.2% compared with 2006, when 216 summer associates joined the firm. In 2005, Skadden hired 184 summer associates across its 22 offices.
The rise in summer associate positions partly is due to a boom in business among large law firms, many of whom are reporting record growth for 2006. For example, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker announced earlier this month that it grossed some $813 million in revenue in 2006, an increase of 22% compared with 2005. Profits per partner totaled $1.6 million, up 21%, the firm said.
In addition, 825-attorney King & Spalding also announced earlier this month that its 2006 gross revenue topped $582 million, an increase of 13.2% compared with 2005. Profits per partner shot up by 25%, the Atlanta-based firm announced, for a record $1.3 million last year.
Also touting record results recently was Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. Gross revenue at the Pittsburgh firm, the result of a merger last year between Buchanan Ingersoll and Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling, climbed to $271.3 million, up from the $193.7 million Buchanan Ingersoll made in 2005. Profits per partner grew by 14%, from $457,000 in 2005 to $522,000 in 2006.
But with the good news at big firms comes the challenge of finding qualified summer associates to fill those posts. Despite the increased demand for associate help, law schools continue to churn out about the same number of graduates: some 40,000 each year. Meanwhile, the number of applicants is dropping, by 6.3% last year and by 5.2% the year before, according to the Law School Admission Council. Boosting its summer associate ranks by 19.9% in 2007 is Kirkland & Ellis, which plans to welcome 229 students. Last year, the 1,218-attorney Chicago-based firm hired 191 summer associates, and in 2005, it ushered in 188 summer associates.
"We are very, very busy," said Sallie Smylie, chairwoman of Kirkland & Ellis's recruiting committee.
To find those summer associates, Kirkland & Ellis visited some new schools last fall, Smylie said, and made trips to schools that it had crossed off its list a few years ago. Indeed, -several schools reported visits last fall from law firms that previously had not participated in on-campus recruiting.
For example, Northeastern University School of Law for the first time welcomed the firm now known as Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, in addition to Chicago's Seyfarth Shaw and New York's Proskauer Rose.
The University of Pittsburgh School of Law had inaugural visits from Dechert. New York-based Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft also collected resumes for the first time at the school.
Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, had first-time -visits from Seyfarth Shaw and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. And Philadelphia's Duane Morris, with 581 attorneys, visited some smaller schools this fall, including North Carolina Central University School of Law and Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, La.
According to NALP, formerly the National Association for Law Placement, on-campus interviews typically result in about 21% of law students ultimately securing a permanent position with a law firm.
The latest summer-recruitment figures available from NALP indicate that more law firms are visiting more schools. Nationwide, 50% of law schools reported an increase of 5% or more in the number of employers visiting their schools to hire summer associates in 2005.
Some bet-hedging also may be fueling the jump in summer-associate hiring. As firms battle an attrition rate that, by -NALP's estimates, has soared to 78% by the time associates are in their fifth year of practice, some firms may be hiring more people in hopes that a greater number of associates will join the firm for the long haul.
"There's probably some of that," Smylie said. "You have to be realistic when you're projecting your needs that there will be attrition."
Retention problems are one reason law firms are hiring more summer associates, said Joel Rose, principal of Joel Rose & Associates in Cherry Hill, N.J. He added that competition for top summer help has prompted some of the more prestigious firms to hoard associates.
"They want to give as many of these top-quality candidates as they can an opportunity," Rose said. Also bringing in more summer associates is DLA Piper. For the upcoming summer, it expects 105 law students, compared with 92 in 2006, for a 14.1% increase. The 3,333-attorney firm, a result of a merger, was created in 2005.
Latham & Watkins also is hiring more summer associates, but only slightly. This year, it expects 282 law students, compared with 276 last year.
Last year, Morrison & Foerster hired 109 summer associates, a 14.7% increase compared with 2005. But this year, the 1,062-attorney law firm is expecting 108 summer associates, one less than in 2006.
Morrison & Foerster Chairman Keith Wetmore said that the firm's San Francisco office was "oversubscribed" last year in terms of its number of summer associates. The firm this year has "redistributed" some of those positions to its other offices, he said.
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