Entry-Level Law Firm Hiring Stagnated in 2017, Survey Says

Law firm hiring hit another rough patch in 2017 after a decade of volatility as some larger law firms pulled back, according to a new report, “Perspective on 2017 Law Student Recruiting.”

“We saw some pulling back, particularly at the largest firms, suggesting that the most recent period of growth has ended,” said James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, a group that tracks lawyer employment data.

Firms are grappling with sluggish demand for legal services; fiercer competition for pieces of legal business; new legal technologies that are eroding traditional ways of delivering legal services; and, until recently, a notable drop in law school enrollments.

For the second year in a row summer hiring numbers—a key indicator of law firm hiring generally— slipped. Just over 40 percent of law firms in NALP’s survey reported making fewer offers for summer programs than in previous years.

“Notably, offices in New York City as a whole made fewer offers for summer programs, while the volume was almost flat in the Silicon Valley,” Leipold said.

Law students had fewer opportunities to interview for jobs overall, the report found. Fewer law firms traveled to law schools to recruit, and campus visits by firms with offices in New York, Boston, and Silicon Valley all dropped compared to 2016. The survey also included recruitment at job fairs.

The brightest spots for fledgling lawyers are in the West and Rocky Mountain regions, where law schools reported a 5 percent increase in law firm recruiter visits.

The survey was based on information from 363 employers, mostly law firms. Three-quarters of the responses were from firms with more than 250 lawyers. The firms with between 251 and 500 lawyers were most likely to have increased the number of job offers, the report found. The smallest firms—with between 101 and 250 lawyers—and the largest—501 to 700 lawyers—were the likeliest to have made no change to their hiring numbers.

Law school enrollment appears to have stabilized for now, but the recruitment landscape does not appear to be expanding, said Leipold.

“Absent a dramatic economic interruption of some sort,” he said, “the picture for law firm recruiting is not likely to change dramatically in the short term.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson at egolson1@gmail.com.

To contact the editors on this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com and Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com.