Paul L. Caron

Monday, August 30, 2021

BigLaw Associate Hiring Surges 24% As Legal Business Booms

Bloomberg Law, Big Law Hiring Practices Bring Shortages as Client Demands Grow:

Conservative entry-level hiring practices that bolstered Big Law firms after the Great Recession constrain them now as they struggle to find associates for the mountains of work after pandemic shutdowns.

Am Law 200 firms have hired more than 8,500 associates this year through Aug. 20, a 24% increase over the previous three-year average, according to data from Decipher, which provides lateral hiring due diligence services for law firms.


Hiring such a large group forced some firms to relax credential requirements and take on attorneys from small competitors in markets that might not have received a second look in less desperate times. ...

The hiring spree underscores Big Law’s hesitancy to overhaul decades-old approaches within firms that would help avoid boom-and-bust cycles in recruiting new attorneys. These approaches, which benefit firms in slow economies, cause supply-chain flaws in robust periods—particularly at the midlevel tier.

“It’s quite a difficult structural problem,” said William Henderson, professor with the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. “We’ve got a lot of a high pay, but we don’t have a lot of thoughtful training or investment in culture.”

Firms are structured in a pyramid shape, with lawyers at the bottom weeded out to leave few partners at the top, said James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, which advises the industry on hiring practices.

Firms instead need a diamond shape with a large number of midlevel attorneys, Leipold said. “They need far fewer partners and far fewer entry level associates.” ...

So where does Big Law go from here and how could it potentially fix its associate supply chain problem?

Moving outside of the traditional hiring criteria has been one strategy. Another possible remedy is to turn to hiring third-year law students. Though firms’ second-year law student summer programs were their main feeder for entry level talent, many in the early 2000s hired third years, said Mark Weber, assistant dean for career services at Harvard Law School.

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