Law Firm Associate Hiring is Down, Even as Firms Recover

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on January 30, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Law firms are starting to recover from the economic recession. Profits are up and the legal industry only shed 2,700 jobs last year. That's nothing when compared to the 41,900 jobs lost in 2009.

But recent graduates and young associates are still feeling the strain of the failing economy. Clients -- corporations in particular -- continue to look for ways to cut legal costs. Some have brought more work in-house, and others refuse to pay for junior associate work.

Will this trend continue? Are large associate classes a thing of the past?

Quite possibly. The number of summer associates and entry-level attorneys at big firms have shrunk in half since 2008, reports the Wall Street Journal. Bonuses have remained flat, and partner-track positions are scarce.

You shouldn't expect any of this to change in the next few years.

Despite the recent upturn, firms are still exercising caution, explains the Wall Street Journal. Greg Nitzkowski, managing partner at Paul Hastings, told the paper he's planning for a flat year. Increasing European instability means the firm does not expect a big increase in demand.

Bill Dantzler, a hiring partner at White & Case, believes small associate classes are here to stay. Firms have become more efficient in the last five years, he explains. There's no longer a need for "armies of young associates."

Will that efficiency continue in a post-recession era?

We may not know for another few years. But in the meantime, it's best for law students and young attorneys to exercise their own sort of caution. No one should be putting all their eggs in the BigLaw basket.

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