This year, the numbers are worse than ever! And that’s the good news. NALP’s Executive Director, Jim Leipold, thinks that we’ve probably “hit the bottom” in terms of new associate hiring, with the class of 2011 suffering the absolute nadir of this process. While he doesn’t know if things will get significantly better any time soon, he figures they pretty much can’t get any worse.
Does anybody want to hear the bad news?
Leipold’s talk was titled “The End of an Era,” and it was sobering for any person concerned with legal hiring trends. One of his main points was that for a long time, the demand for “sophisticated legal services” outstripped the supply of qualified “business lawyers.” That fueled the Biglaw boom years that most of us still remember.
Sadly, now the supply of business lawyers is much greater than the demand for their services. It’s flipped. But it didn’t flip in 2010, or even 2008. Leipold argues that it happened in 2004, and the market is now just feeling the effects of that flip.
How bad is the pain? NALP numbers say that only 85 percent of 2011 graduates were employed nine months after graduation. That’s the lowest figure in over a decade, and it includes the roughly three to four percent of graduates who are employed by their law schools. If you take that group out of the mix, we’re looking at hiring rates as low as they were during the recession in the early 90s.
And Leipold thinks that at least some of these changes are going to be permanent. As he put it: “The days of the large summer classes are over. And they’re not coming back.”
And in terms of 3L hiring, Leipold said, “There is no 3L hiring market.” That’s something I’m sure you don’t have to tell the class of 2012, either.
But, while Leipold doesn’t expect there to be a great uptick for the class of 2012 (and he allows for the possibility that the class of 2012 could do marginally worse than the class of 2011), he thinks this is probably the worst of it. He doesn’t know when it’ll get better, but he put it this way: “I see no reason for it to continue on a downward spiral.”
Essentially, firms have adjusted to the new, reduced demand for their services. They’re not trying to shed weight anymore. And that means hiring should at least stabilize, instead of continuing to get worse.
So, that’s comforting, right? Once you’re at the bottom, the only way to go is up.
Just don’t tell that to the class of 2011.