The summer’s coming to an end on the east coast, and the summer offers aren’t rolling in as they have in the past ( subscription required). In California, our summer nights are in full swing for at least another month, but the news, I’m certain, isn’t heart warming for the summer associates.


Having worked in the legal industry for 13 years (11 in legal marketing), I cannot allow this new “trend” to take hold without shining the bright light of WARNING CAUTION BEWARE CHANGE COURSE HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE PLAN BE FLEXIBLE.

When coupled with the summer associate classes being considerable smaller this year, the job offer rate looks downright frightening. Here in California, we’re talking 60-80%, down from the prior 90% averages.

In another blow to the job prospects of top law students, summer associate offer rates are down significantly at many big California firms.

While some firms are still compiling numbers, most offer rates are in the range of 60 to 85 percent, but one firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, offered jobs to only 30 percent of summer associates.

That’s down from an average of more than 90 percent in recent years at most firms. The National Association for Law Placement reported in February that in 2008, the summer offer rate dipped to its lowest rate since 2003 — to 90 percent.

Firms that were still in the 90s this year include Latham & Watkins and Morrison & Foerster, while Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; and Nixon Peabody dipped below 80 percent.

The trend is a double blow to students, after a summer in which firms invited 30 to 50 percent fewer students to join their programs.

Let’s be honest. In years past, you had to be a total loser, a-hole or made a complete fool of yourself when drunk to not get an offer letter.

Robert Depew, managing director of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s San Francisco office, said in the past, the major hurdle for law students was obtaining a summer associate offer with a reputable firm, not getting an offer of full-time employment at the end of the summer. This year, firms have raised the bar, and even smart and polished associates won’t make the cut.

“In years past, every summer associate was essentially guaranteed an offer unless he or she completely dropped the ball on work projects or totally shocked decision makers with abhorrent social behavior,” Depew said. “In fact, most firms maintained a tradition of going to extraordinary lengths to ensure 100 percent offer rates wherever possible. And the failure to obtain an offer at the end of the summer was a professional ‘kiss of death’ for law students.”

Times they are a changing, and new trends, they are a brewing. A legal education no longer guarantees that one will become a lawyer, in the traditional sense. Many of these young men and women who are in law school today will never receive that golden offer letter, and their path, upon graduation, will not be clear.

Law school placement and career centers need to open up a conversation on alternative career options, and career paths, than the traditional law firm model. These can include going small/solo, contract attorneys, teaching, legislative analysts, paralegals, journalism … marketing, technology and librarians, too.