Study: Sharp increase in law firm interns getting full-time offers

The job market for law school graduates improved dramatically last year, with law firms competing aggressively to recruit the best prospects, a study released Tuesday shows.

Major law firms made offers to 95.3 percent of all summer interns, the highest offer rate since the 2008-2009 recession, according to the study by the National Association for Law Placement.

The number of summer internships, a stepping-stone to full-time employment, also was significantly higher, said NALP, a Washington-based group that tracks lawyer hiring.

"After a period of considerable and prolonged slowdown in law student recruiting volumes, for the last two years we have seen strong markers of recovery," said NALP executive director, James Leipold. "There is a scramble for talent that we have not seen since before the last recession."

Law firms typically recruit their summer associates or interns from among first-year law students who then work for firms between their second and third years. Law firms in many instances extend offers of full-time employment at the end of the summer program, to begin once the students complete law school.

Those offers sharply declined during the recession. According to the NALP study, only 69 percent of summer associates received offers during the depth of the recession, in 2009.

That the employment market for young law school graduates is heating up stands in stark contrast to observations by law firm leaders that legal revenues are flat and that growing their businesses typically means acquiring or merging with another firm or taking business from someone else.

But Leipold said that even though legal revenues were not growing briskly, many firms had shortages of associate lawyers in their third, fourth and fifth years. Those lawyers typically have acquired skills and can be charged out to clients at attractive rates. Yet the ranks of those lawyers were thinned during the recession.

That to some extent explains firms' eagerness now to replenish the pipeline, Leipold said. He added competition also is keener because law school classes are smaller.