Friday, October 20, 2006

Law Firm Rate of Return

NALP. It sounds swell on paper—a structured way for students and firms to get together. Top law schools have a commodity. In many respects it is a sellers market, even in a bad economy, because the top students from top law schools (I leave, for now, the argument that a top student from a top law firm really is worth her weight in gold) are still limited in availability when held against the mass of graduates each year. So, a few law schools, if they come together (as they have), can shape the way students are recruited. Again, on paper, this works well. Students and firms have a chance to pre-screen each other for a few days (at many schools this is before classes start, so there are fewer distractions) before deciding where to go to “take this relationship to another level.” Due to the guidelines, students are not forced to select a firm on the spot, and may keep several offers outstanding for quite some time. Once they match up with a firm that fits them best, then they release the other offers and inform the “lucky” firm that they will be summering with them. If everything goes well, at the end of the summer the student will get an offer, and will be able to hold this offer open until after the next round of interviewing finishes for the following summer (most students do not double dip—meaning, going through OCI (on campus interviewing) twice, but some do, and can without having to turn down the firm that has offered them a job).

All of this is reported to NALP. NALP publishes several items about each firm’s recruiting, and students use NALP as part of their research when selecting firms. In my opinion, this creates a dilemma for both firms and students. [Note: I’m all for the more information the better. I don’t advocate not publishing this info, but I do want to address what damage this information might be contributing to.]

The stakes are very high when choosing where one will go in the summer between their 2L year and 3L year. While getting an offer to join a firm for permanent employment post graduation is nice, not getting an offer is really at issue. Returning from your post-2L summer without an offer can be the ‘kiss of death.’ (Okay, a bit dramatic, but it is said to really suck.) With no offer in your 3L year, that second OCI becomes an impossible task: “Oh, Mrs. Smith, I see you went to last summer, did you get an offer?” If you answer this “no” your already slim chance of a job offer (as most firms want to have you as a 2L first) goes from slim to none. Also, if you chose to look for clerkships post-2L summer, the issue will come up as well: “I see you were at this summer, they are a fine firm, are you planning to return?”

Alright, then, what’s the problem?

Well, if you know how important it is to get an offer from your summer firm, even if you have no plans of returning, what one piece of information to you think might matter most? I’ll tell you. The most important numbers are: How many Summers did they invite for the summer, and how many of those were offered permanent employment (received an offer). I call this, crazily enough, the “return rate.”

10 Summers :: 10 return offers = 100% return rate. 10 Summers :: 7 return offers = 70% return rate.

Right, you get it.

So, if most law firms look the same to most students (as I believe they do), what might be a deciding factor? The highest return rate wins. Because getting the offer is so important, a student torn between several firms (or more likely the case, indifferent to several firms) will look to the firm that gives them the highest probability of securing the offer (past performance no indicator of future blah blah blah). If the law student knows this, then so too does the law firm. Law firms are very aware of how their NALP form looks to students. If other firms—their competitors in the local market—have 100% return rates, then the firm with a 70% or, God forbid, a 50% return rate will be at a disadvantage in recruiting their choice candidates. So, what are firms to do? Well, they can lie on the self reported NALP report. Or, they can offer everyone who comes to work a job at the summer’s end.

As for lying. I have no idea if firms lie on these NALP forms, but I can tell you that this would be dangerous (besides unethical, of course) if recruiting from the top schools. Why? Well, the students who do not receive an offer talk. They not only talk to other students, but they talk to the Career Center. The student becomes the Career Center’s problem, and they Career Center might inquire as to why the student did not receive an offer. Too many time of this happening, and the word is out about this firm. Of course, the Career Center folks look at these NALP forms, and will spot any discrepancies.

Most firms are becoming afraid to not give offers. If they have to take on a poor performer, or more associates than are needed, it might be worth the cost in order not to shut off future candidates from choosing the firm in subsequent years. Sure, even a 50% return rate firm will be able to fill its summer class up, but it may have to look further down the line of desirable candidates. Because the best candidates will have several firms to chose from, they will pick high return rate firms, whereas recruits that don’t have many options will take a shot at a lower return rate firm—these students without options are usually lower on the pecking order.

Of course, this could be all a bunch of horseshit.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Eh, who knows, I doubt anyone stops by anymore, and why would you? For a few months, my blog was nothing more than a bunch of date strings across the entire blog. This was done in haste. The reason: I was out with some of my fellow Summers at a firm function, and one of the Summers started talking about my blog (I never told this Summer about my blog, but this Summer knew of it before our stint at the firm together). Anyway, the Summer was saying things in front of the recruiter, and I thought it might be best to suspend operations until my offer was secured. I don’t think there is anything too egregious on this blog, but why take the chance?