Blog Network

About The Bloggers


In a Downturn, Who Gets Priority?

There are three lawyers in a lifeboat built for two: a partner, a third year associate and a new grad. The partner stays because it is his boat. Who gets the remaining seat?

Though this hypothetical sounds like the beginning of a really bad lawyer joke, it also depicts a reality that law firms now face in the downturn. As Crain's Cleveland Business (H/T ABA Journal) reports, several Ohio firms cut their summer programs realizing that if they needed to hire in 2011, they would have access to a huge pool of legal talent -- plenty of experienced lawyers who had been downsized by their firms. As Christopher Carney, chairman of the hiring committee at Brouse McDowell explained, at this time, "there's no reason to hire entry level lawyers" with so many associates on the market.

Of course, this kind of strategy shifts the burden of the down economy to new grads who, without experience or contacts and in serious debt, are least able to cope with unemployment. As The New York Times summed up the situation earlier this week, law firms' decisions to cancel or downsize summer programs is having an impact even at top tier schools, where firms traditionally drew the majority of their summer classes:

New York University, Georgetown, Northwestern and other top universities confirm that interviews are down by a third to a half compared with a year ago, while lower-ranked schools are suffering more. What is more, when interviews finish in a few weeks, even fewer offers will be extended, said Howard L. Ellin, the chairman of global hiring at Skadden, Arps, because many firms are interviewing students for slots they may not fill....

The timing is worse for the class of 2011, the second-years now looking to get into firms, because of a unique logjam created last year. After the September financial crisis, firms chose to defer their new hires at the price of steeply cutting recruiting this year.

So now, the so-called top schools are pushing students to explore other markets in cities like Pittsburgh and Fort Lauderdale, where they may find less competition. Likewise, new grads are flooding government lawyer programs and clerkships. But even if these students from top schools manage to get these positions they'll simply wind up displacing students from lower schools who previously sought out these opportunities.

Is there any solution to this riddle, any group that is better situated to take the hit of the economy than another? How do you think firms should decide?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 28, 2009 at 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


About ALM  |  About  |  Customer Support  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms & Conditions