Law firms didn’t recruit nearly as aggressively as in years past for 2021 summer associate positions. Many were leery of a pandemic-fueled recession and acted accordingly, according to recent surveys done by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).
“Amidst the pandemic interruptions and uncertainties there was an overall net decline in recruiting activity,” said NALP Executive Director James G. Leipold. “Schools reported fewer employers interviewing students for summer programs and law firms reported recruiting at fewer campuses for summer programs, and both median and average offer numbers fell.”
Leipold added that despite the critical difficulties faced by recruitment teams at law firms in 2020, they were able to hit their adjusted targets.
He noted that some of the recruitment numbers rivaled the low points following the Great Recession but “by flexing hard and leaning into a new timeline and new technology, large law firms and law schools were able to complete the annual dance of recruitment, offer, and acceptance, despite the syncopated rhythm that must have felt at times a bit like a game of musical chairs.”
NALP had to adjust to Covid as well. With the adaptations made buy firm recruiting teams, traditional data reporting went out the window. The biggest change was that it had to use different survey timeframes, given how recruitment didn’t follow a normal cycle.
The most striking finding was the above-mentioned drop in recruitment and how severe it was. According to NALP:
And offers fell too:
Students moved much more quickly to make decisions:
And, not surprisingly, virtual efforts ruled the day:
Interestingly, the weaker law firm recruitment efforts came right before a surge in demand for more legal services and lawyers. A predicted drop-off spurred by the pandemic did not occur.
Leipold said: “Many large law firms reported significant revenue and profit gain figures for 2020, though at the onset of the pandemic there was considerable uncertainty about what the demand for legal services would be and how deeply the pandemic-recession would affect law firm bottom lines, which may account for some of the conservative approach firms seemed to have taken in shaping summer 2021 programs.”
He noted nearly all the 2020-21 recruiting cycle numbers need an asterisk or footnote to explain that they are not comparable to the data in the years that preceded 2020, or the years that follow.
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