The Dow Jones started really tanking in October of last year along with the rest of the economy, but it felt as if the economic impact on legal careers was delayed. Whispers of cuts at top law firms grew louder in early 2009, but most firms hung on until the bitter end to announce the unthinkable: layoffs of attorneys.
One of the best sources for following these developments, Above the Law, has described its coverage as a "Nationwide Layoff Watch." Not what you want to hear if you're in the market for a job.
But now the economy looks like it may be turning around a bit, the Dow had a great quarter, and interest rates haven't gone through the roof. The housing market is seeing some positive signs. The future looks bright...right?
Not so much. The delayed impact on the legal world continues, and it's starting to hit the summer associate programs for next year. Firms have begun to announce that things will not be any better a year from now, when rising 1Ls will be hoping to land a coveted summer job and (hopefully) permanent employment.
Morgan Lewis, the 12th highest grossing law firm in 2008, has canceled its summer program entirely. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe recently announced that it will push back the start of recruiting and delay future start dates. These are two huge firms; one can only guess how many others will follow suit in the coming months.
Some schools are trying to remain optimistic, advising students to adapt to the market by applying to a broad range of employers and "secondary markets." Sure, tough times call for a more flexible approach. But when Harvard career services officials are suggesting that students look at Milwaukee, you know things are getting ugly.
Given the lag between the impact on the US economy and the legal market, don't look for things to change anytime soon. The Class of 2011 is feeling the pressure right now, and chances are the Class of 2012 won't be seeing any real improvement.
Gregory Henning is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Virginia Law School. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Judge R. Lanier Anderson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and then became an Assistant District Attorney in Boston. As part of the Anna Ivey team, Greg works with law school applicants.