Status of summer programs

LegalJob’s guest blogger, Katie White, polled several hiring partners and recruiting professionals about law student hiring in the Washington, DC market.

LegalJob’s guest blogger, Katie White, polled several hiring partners and recruiting professionals about law student hiring in the Washington, DC market.  This post (one of a three-part series) summarizes some of those discussions.  Katie is a career consultant and networking coach at The George Washington University Law School.


1. How does your summer program size compare to past years, and what do you predict your firm’s needs will be for hiring law students in the coming years?

  • Several DC firms have larger summer programs this year than in 2010, but the program sizes are still conservative.  No one is predicting summer program sizes will return to what they were in the years prior to 2009.
  • Summer hiring is far more conservative than in the past, and hiring targets are tied more closely to specific practice group hiring needs than they were in the past.  Firms are being careful not to over hire, so they will have room in their incoming classes for all of their former summer associates.
  • Firms varied on their predictions for the future size of their summer programs, but most agreed that they do not see a return to large summer programs classes.

2. Over the years management committees and hiring committees have considered doing away with the summer program model altogether.  And in fact, several firms did not have a summer program during the legal market downturn.  What do insiders think is the future of law student hiring?

  • One hiring partner we spoke with noted summer programs are no longer a ten-week interview.  Firms are now utilizing their programs as a practical training experience.  There is a focus on skills the summer associates should begin to develop.  When these summer associates return to law school they take pertinent classes and participate in clinics that give them further experience important to their area of practice at the firm.   These law students will be better prepared than the incoming associates of the past to provide value to their new employers.
  • Firms have not abandoned the summer associate model, and those who did suspend their summer programs have now started them up again.  Hiring law students as summer associates continues to be valued as a pipeline to the law schools and a vehicle for keeping the firm’s brand alive on campus. 
  • Additionally, the market for legal work is beginning to come back and some firms are finding that their incoming associate classes are too small due to the reduced summer program sizes.  They therefore have begun to hire third-year law students again, and this practice may increase if firms continue to be conservative in their summer hiring.

This last nugget is good news for some LegalJob followers — AmLaw 100 firms have begun to hire third-year students again so do not fret if you do not have the dream (or any) job going into your third year.  It may be possible to secure an opportunity late so continue to network, get as much experience as you can in your area, and keep those follow-ups coming. More information on law firm hiring to follow in part two and three of this series.