How to Choose Among Law Firm Offers in This Unique Recruiting Season

A current law student wrote to us seeking advice:

I was curious if you could speak to what factors a law student should consider when choosing between firm offers during this unique recruiting season. After narrowing down my choices, I have been advised to go with my gut. However, I was hoping there were other, more concrete factors to consider other than my gut. I am concerned that my decision could land me a job with a firm who will let me go within my first year of employment.

This is indeed a "unique recruiting season"; within the past two years, many law firms have cut the size of their summer programs (or cancelled them altogether), laid off associates, and even conducted partner lay offs. According to Law Shucks, 5,404 lawyers were laid off by major law firms between January 1, 2008 and September 7, 2009. See Greg Henning's posting, Warning: Read at Your Own Peril, for a discussion of this gloomy situation.

Unfortunately, no one has a crystal ball to tell current law students which firms will be on solid footing at this time next year and beyond. In the employment market as well as the free market, past performance is not a guarantee of future results-but you can use past performance as an indicator. Research what has happened during the economic downturn at the firms from which you have received offers. Take a look at the American Lawyer Layoff List and consider these questions:

  • Has the firm laid off employees?
  • Did it lay off associates, partners, or staff?
  • How many people in each of the categories above were laid off?
  • When were the layoffs?
  • Were employees laid off in one office or nationwide?
  • Have associate salaries been cut?
  • Did the firm renege on offers to incoming associates or summer associates?
  • Has the firm deferred the start date for incoming associates?
  • If so, how long is the deferral period?
  • Did the firm offer a stipend to deferred associates, and if so, in what amount?

See also this posting by Anna on other signs to look for.

Careful consideration of these issues will help you determine which firms are "most likely to succeed" in the coming months and years. However, try to combine what you learn from your research with your gut instinct, if possible; for many people, happiness is a major factor in their ability to thrive at work.


Nicole Vikan is a graduate of NYU Law School. She spent her first law school summer at a large law firm, and her second summer in the Homicide Investigation Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. She returned to the District Attorney's Office after graduation and spent five years as a criminal prosecutor, handling cases such as robbery and assault. Nicole then joined Fordham Law School's Career Planning Center, where she advised students seeking employment in the private and public sectors. She is currently a career counselor at Georgetown Law Center's Office of Public Interest and Community Service. As part of the Anna Ivey team, Nicole works with law school applicants and people exploring legal careers.