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News You Don't Want to Hear

Vivia Chen

July 25, 2010

NYC Junk Market Grea#B6DB59
I don't want to go there, but as your faithful career sherpa, I have no choice but to give you the unvarnished truth about the state of the legal marketplace. You probably know bits and pieces of the news already, but I'll lay out the whole mess on one table:

• Firms slashed summer classes by an average of 44 percent, reports Am Law Daily's Summer Hiring Survey: "The 114 firms that responded to the survey hired an average of 31 summer associates this year, down from last year's average of 55 associates."

Hard-hit were megafirms like Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which went from 223 summer associates in 2009 to 79 this year, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore, where "the summer class shrank by 81 percent to just 23 summer associates." Worst was Ballard Spahr, which totally eliminated its summer program.

• For those dead-set on working in New York: Summer legal jobs dropped to lows not seen since 1991, according to the New York State Department of Labor, reports New York Law Journal. The article says: "The city's legal services sector, largely [composed of] law firms, added 1,600 jobs in June, up 2.1 percent from May. But the numbers are below the 2,600 jobs added in June 2009 and below the decade average of 2,800."

How does that translate in real jobs? Skadden, Arps's New York office, for instance, only has 34 summer associates now (it had 102 in 2009), while Weil, Gotshal & Manges has 20 versus 96 last year.

• Finally, some relief: ambiguous news. NALP announced that legal jobs for new law graduates fell last year, but the pay (for those who got jobs) was steady, reports The National Law Journal: "The national median starting salary for full-time law jobs in 2009 was $72,000 and the average was $93,454--virtually identical to 2008 salary figures."

But the problem with those numbers is that it's pretty much a guess, because "they don't account for the fact that salary information for larger law firms is much more widely available than for smaller firms. Fewer than half of small firms report salary."

To compensate for the big/small firm difference, NALP came out with $85,198 as the adjusted average starting salary for 2009 law graduates, as opposed to the unadjusted $93,454 figure.

But James Liepold, NALP's executive director, tells the NLJ: "Just as an average starting salary cannot describe the likelihood of a particular starting salary for any one law school graduate, there is no single set of statistics that can predict employment opportunities for a single graduate."

In other words, take all those figures with a big grain of salt. A lot of novice lawyers are probably making less than that $85,000 figure--possibly a lot less.

Did I miss any other recent gloomy statistics about the legal market?

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Photo: NYC Junk Market in the Great Depression / Samuel Gottscho 1933

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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