Quinn Emanuel Shrinks Summer Associate Program

Photo by ClkerFreeVectorImages (Pixabay)

Every summer, big law firms around the country welcome a fresh batch of law students to work for their clients and gain valuable experience that they hope will contribute to landing them full-time employment in Big Law upon graduation.

Next year, law students may look past one firm that has announced plans to largely do away with this tradition: Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

In a move that runs counter to conventional Big Law management, the litigation powerhouse’s name partner John Quinn sent a firm memo on Monday that explained its decision to ax what is today a 50-member summer associate class to just five or ten individuals by next year.

In the memo, Quinn described the move as an “experiment with a change in our approach to law school recruiting.”

With the change, he said that the firm will focus its recruiting efforts on hiring third-year law students and judicial clerks instead, and will “redirect money” — saved by reducing summer associate class size — to offer larger bonuses to associates. The full memo, quoted below, was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.

In an interview, Quinn explained that it has been particularly difficult integrating summer associates with trial teams on cases that have been in the pipeline for years, and that the associates are expensive. Quinn said the firm will save “hundreds of thousands” of dollars.

He said that the move had nothing to do with the waning of its mortgage backed securities work, which Big Law Business reported in January.

“It’s not a cost savings measure,” he said. “I just think the system is broken.”

Quinn said that he didn’t expect other law firms to follow his lead in taking a step away from summer associate classes.

“Nobody ever follows us,” said Quinn. “I think other law firms think we are outliers and quirky, and [say] ‘Just because Quinn Emanuel is doing something doesn’t mean we should follow them. We are going to march in line with the others.'”

He suggested, however, that if law firms didn’t have such a pack-like mentality, they too may see the logic of such a move.

“Law firms are like lemmings and do just what everybody else does… But if you step back and think, ‘Does this make any sense?’ I don’t think it makes any sense.”

This isn’t the first time Quinn Emanuel has shaken up its recruiting efforts. In 2012, the firm decided to break away from the formal on-campus interview process and host parties at law schools where its lawyers would meet prospective hires in an informal setting.

The text of Quinn’s full memo is provided below:

“The firm is going to experiment with a change in our approach to law school recruiting. In recent memory, the basic approach of all law firms to law school recruiting has been to recruit second-year students to participate in formal “summer associate” programs from which most law students are hired. For several reasons, we have concluded that this traditional way may not be optimal. Although we do our best to ensure that summer associates do real and meaningful work, summer programs are unavoidably unrealistic to a degree. Especially when it comes to the trial work we do here, it’s difficult to parcel out projects that fit within the two months summer associates are with us. Try as we might, there’s nothing like the real thing of having full-time associates integrate and litigate as long-term members of a team. The programs are also very expensive. Increasingly, clients don’t want to pay for summer associates’ time, even though they do valuable work at very reasonable rates. All this raises the question whether this money can be employed in recruiting in a more impactful way.

We think it can be. We intend to shift the focus of our law school recruiting efforts to recruit third-year students and judicial clerks. We will still have summer associate programs but they will be extremely limited; perhaps only five to ten summers firm-wide. The principal purpose for continuing our summer program will be to have outstanding candidates on law school campuses who have had personal experience with our firm. We will redirect money saved on the summer associate program to signing bonuses for summers, third-year students and judicial clerks who join us on a permanent basis.

Some will point out that law students will be most comfortable going back to the law firms that they “summered” at and will be reluctant to cast their lot with a firm that they haven’t worked at. I am sure that’s true of the average law student; but, we’ve never been looking for the average law student. We know that, in fact, many students do continue to interview in their third year. And, once it is known that essentially the only way to get a job at the premier litigation firm in the world is to interview there your third year — well, we think we will still see excellent candidates. We think those candidates will appreciate our efforts to put more money in their pockets as they come in the door rather than excessively spending on summer programs that many view as a waste of time. Also, we intend to ramp up our focus on judicial clerks in a more meaningful and structured way.”

UPDATED: This article has been corrected to reflect that Quinn Emanuel will focus on hiring third-year law students, not third-year associates.