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After slight rebound, entry-level hiring falters at law firms

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In response to an increasingly competitive market, law firms have pulled back on entry-level hiring for the fourth consecutive year, while summer associate employment remains far off pre-recession highs with a similarly bleak future ahead, according to a report by the National Association for Law Placement.

According to the report on law student recruiting, both the median and average numbers of offers made for 2013 summer associate positions fell after two years of gains that followed the historic recruiting low of 2009. At firms of all sizes across the country, the percent of interviews resulting in offers fell from 46.4 percent for summer 2012 associates to 44.2 percent for this summer’s associates — well above the 36 percent offer rate in 2009, but considerably below the 60 percent offer rate in 2007.

“As law firms battle for market share and compete within a global marketplace that is driving the price of legal services down, law firms continue to be cautious about brining in more lawyers than they can confidently keep busy,” James Leipold, NALP executive director, said in the report. “I would expect flat and faltering to be characteristics of the entry-level law firm hiring market going forward. Multiple experts have made the case that the legal market is not likely to return to pre-2007 levels, and the recruiting environment reflects that reality.”

According to local firms, New Jersey’s legal hiring landscape matches the national picture captured in NALP’s report. Nicole Alexander, director of professional and business development at Morristown-based McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP, said her firm hired 13 associates for its summer 2012 class, but estimates it will accept 10 associates into its summer 2013 class, as only seven law students have been hired through today. Similarly, Archer & Grenier P.C. spokesman Bill Shralow said his firm hired nine associates for summer 2012, but has so far only hired six associates for this summer.

“We’re continuing to evaluate the legal market on an ongoing basis, and we can’t predict where things are going, although it’s pretty widely accepted that the boom years that led up to recession in 2008 are probably never going to reoccur,” Shralow said. “We’re looking at a market now that has been transformed permanently from that period of time, and we’re part of the trend where we’re continuing to hire at a cautious rate.”

Shralow said Archer & Grenier only hired four new associates in fall 2012 from its six-member summer 2010 class, and the firm plans to employ the same number for fall 2013 from its seven-member summer 2011 class.

However, Alexander said despite the bleak legal market, McElroy Deutsch offers all its summer associates entry-level positions.

“We want to take advantage of a great talent pool, but we want to honor what we’ve extended to our applicants,” Alexander said. “We don’t want to end up in a position where we have to say to someone, ‘You were great, but we have to rescind our offer.’ ”

For members of the law school class of 2013 who were 2012 summer associates, 90.2 percent received job offers for entry-level positions — a full percentage point decline from the 91.4 percent of associates in the previous summer’s crop who received offers, according to the NALP report.

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