For this year's summer law clerks, 2010 is likely to go down as the year of the even leaner, meaner summer program. Like their predecessors last year, this year's summer class got a stark reminder of the heavy toll the recession has taken on the legal business, as many top law firms continued to cut back the length of their summer programs, from 12 weeks to ten or, in some cases, ten weeks to eight--if they had summer programs at all.
And in 2010, the size of summer classes was also down significantly from last year, as many firms scaled back their recruiting efforts, knowing they'd have far fewer full-time associate jobs to fill.
On the bright side, firms were generally better able than they were last year to assure the summer clerks they did hire that they would get full-time job offers, provided they did good work. In the end, almost three-quarters of those who answered The American Lawyer's 2010 Summer Associates Survey said they had either already gotten or expected to get an offer from their firms.
That's an improvement over 2009, when only about half of the associates surveyed were expected to receive full-time offers. Yet this year's numbers are still down sharply from 2006, when 87 percent of those surveyed said they expected a job offer--and when nearly all but the most lackadaisical summer associates were almost guaranteed to get offers.
Our 2010 survey went out to 3,879 summer clerks at 137 law firms, and 3,000 responded. Summer associates have traditionally been fairly easy graders, and this year was no exception. The average overall 2010 score was 4.58 (based on a scale of 1 to 5). Even the lowest-ranking firm--Minneapolis's Faegre & Benson--earned a respectable 4.20. In a prepared statement, Heather Perkins, who chairs Faegre's legal personnel committee, said the firm believes its summer program "provides meaningful work opportunities, excellent exposure to pro bono service, and substantial training programs that help our summer associates succeed once they join the firm." (Indeed, Faegre's score compares favorably to the 4.10 score earned by the last-place firm in 2006.)
Regardless of where they spent the summer, this year's clerks tended to be serious and highly focused--and determined to prove their worth. Well aware of the economic forces buffeting the legal industry, the summer associates of 2010 didn't take anything for granted. "They worked really, really hard," says Tamara Gilles, senior recruiting coordinator at Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton, which soared from number 49 in last year's rankings to the top spot this year. "They were making sure they did everything they could to put themselves in the best position [for an offer] at the end of the summer."
"We said, 'We know there's a lot of anxiety in the marketplace, but what each of you can control is the ability to do good work.' "
Pepper hosted 14 summer clerks this year, down from 17 last year. Partner Michael Subak, who chairs Pepper's hiring committee, says there were no major changes to the 2010 program, though concerns that the clerks might be more competitive with each other this year prompted the firm to add more team-building exercises in order to develop camaraderie.
"We said, 'We know there's a lot of anxiety in the marketplace, but what each of you can control is the ability to do good work,' " Subak says. His audience apparently took those words to heart: Thirteen of Pepper's 14 summer clerks received job offers, according to Subak, an offer rate that he says was up from last year's.
As in the past, Pepper Hamilton and 2010's other top-ranking firms earned perfect or near-perfect scores in all the key categories, including the level of training, guidance, and feedback they offered summer hires, as well as the number of substantive, interesting assignments they handed out. "Pepper Hamilton is an incredible place to learn and grow as a young attorney," one intern wrote.