April 21, 2014
Hiring trends are one of the many facets of business at Large and Midsized law firms that speak to their economic health. They should not be considered in isolation, of course, but they are of special interest because they speak, in ways that not many other measures do, to law firms’ mentalities.
To simplify it, a firm that feels confident about the future and has work to be done will not hesitate to take on the new attorneys it needs to meet demand, while a firm that either does not have the business or does not have a positive outlook on the future will hew conservative and delay planned hirings.
Recent weeks have seen the emergence of several news items pertaining to law firm hirings:
- Citing a “decline in demand for first-year attorneys,” Brown Rudnick, a 200-attorney East Coast firm, has rescinded offers to 10 of the 23 associates who were slated to join the firm in autumn. This is a single incident, so it is best not to draw too wide a conclusion from it. However, it is also such a drastic step from a large and well-established law firm that it is fair to think it does say something about the employment market.
- Speaking of law students and new lawyers, summer-associate classes remain smaller than they were a decade ago. (However, the silver lining may be that since classes are smaller, the percentage of summer associates who are hired is as great as it was during pre-recssion.)
- The executive direct for the National Association for Law Placement recently put it this way: “We’re not going back to 2006 anytime soon.” He was referring to hiring levels for new attorneys, which most in the industry reached their modern heyday around 2006, plummeted precipitously shortly after and have not yet recuperated fully.
Now, when taken together, these three developments do not present an in-depth, statistically sound assessment of the hiring market. They do, however, present enough evidence to suggest that law firms, on the whole, are still hesitant to take on new attorneys. That, in turns, speaks to law firms’ states of mind. It would seem that there has not yet been enough increased in demand to merit expanding the ranks.