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Summer Associateships—Which Firms Topped the List and Why?

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A Q&A with Kerry Benn, director of Series, Surveys, and Data at Law360

Law360 Pulse wondered the same thing and conducted a study recently to find out what the 2022 summer associate program might look like. We had the chance to sit down with Kerry Benn, director of series, surveys, and data at Law360, to discuss the findings and what students were most concerned with.

For many of us, Covid completely upended what we envisioned our summer associateship experience was going to look like. There were many changes in the past two years, from the interview process being largely remote to whether the law firm would have us be in person and what our responsibilities and interactions with peers and partners would look like. We’d heard stories about lavish parties, nightly outings, and tons of networking opportunities—would this still be the case?

Give us a brief overview of the Summer Associates Survey.

This was our second year conducting the survey, and we wanted to see if and how things had changed since last year when we were still deep in the pandemic, and many firms were still working remotely. The survey aimed to get an idea of what students look for in their summer firm, which firms’ reputations stand out among law students as the most desirable to work for, and how Covid continued to (or didn’t) impact the overall summer associateships.

We conducted the survey from March 7 to April 4, 2022, and got 1,117 responses. About half of those respondents were in their 1L year, 375 were in their 2L year, about 200 were in their 3L year, and the remainder were part-time or taking evening classes.

What was the most significant change from last year?

The most significant shift we saw for firms was back toward the pre-Covid model, both with the Early Interview Week process and the actual summer associateship. For example, just 69 percent of interviews for this year’s programs took place remotely, compared with 82 percent last year. And last year, many reported that their associateships were only a couple of weeks long, and many were canceled altogether. This year the programs appear to be back to their traditional 10–11 weeks.

However, we’re also seeing more flexibility in terms of remote work, something that was unheard of pre-Covid. While 92 percent of respondents said they would report in person if required, 37 percent encountered firms that would allow them to do their summer associateship remotely, even from a different city from where the internship was based. It seems like firms are reading the tea leaves of what people want and are offering more flexibility. Related, even though students want flexibility, they also want to network. Last year 53 percent were worried that they wouldn’t be able to connect with colleagues and receive sufficient mentoring because of the remote nature of most programs. That number dropped to 25 percent this year.

Who topped the list of summer associates’ preferred firms, and do we know why?

We ask students to name their top three choices for where they’d want to do their summer associateship if they could pick from any firm. For 2022, Kirkland & Ellis took the top spot, leapfrogging over last year’s top firm, Latham & Watkins, which fell to number two. Cooley, Skadden, and Sidley Austin rounded out the top five.

Kirkland is known for its strength in many practice areas. A handful of students specifically mentioned Kirkland in the short-answer questions, praising the firm’s transparency about its business and the extra opportunities it provides for summer associates to know the lawyers and practice areas in which they work. We also know Kirkland usually offers the most summer associateship slots, which could be a contributing factor—people are practical. They want to apply somewhere where they have a high chance of landing a spot.

What were students’ top reasons for choosing a particular firm?

Practice areas a firm offers topped the list of reasons students chose a particular firm, followed by a firm’s geographical location and reputation. Regarding specific desired practice areas, corporate law continued to top the list, just like last year. This year, however, the second most desired practice area was intellectual property law, surpassing general litigation, which was ranked third. Trial law and employment law rounded out the top five.

In short-answer questions on the survey, students also mentioned firm traits they considered important like good work-life balance, conscientiousness on issues like climate change, emphasis on mental health, and a diverse cohort of women in leadership.

Did program stipends impact students’ decisions at all?

Responses varied widely related to stipends. The average pay stipend reported was $35,232, which, extrapolated out to a full year, would be about $141,000. Law360 has been reporting over the past few months that many big law firms have started raising first-year associate salaries to about $215,000, so these summer salaries aren’t quite equivalent but certainly in the ballpark for a student with less experience. However, that depends on the size of the firm and the type of work a student does. A large law firm doing litigation will pay more than a smaller firm that’s more focused on public interest work. While salary was not the deciding factor for most students, it still weighed on their minds, as evidenced by one comment from a respondent that said, “I am paying a hefty sum for this education, but some firms only offer $15/hr. I could get that at Target. My first choice was the firm that would pay $33/hr. Consider requiring at least $20/hr for the law field.”

What worries were on students’ minds about their summer programs?

With most associateships being back in person, there was less worry this year about not having access to mentorship and being able to develop relationships. However, that did still ring in as a stressor, with 25 percent of respondents mentioning it. The biggest surprise was that the number of people worried that they wouldn’t be up to the workload rose to 25 percent from just 8 percent last year. And 24 percent of respondents (up from 19 percent last year) said they worried about not getting hired at the end of their internship. After the past two years of instability and remote learning, I think many students have an extra sensitivity to feeling unprepared for the rigors of the legal industry.

How many firms did students apply to, and if they didn’t get an interview or associateship, what are they doing this summer instead?

The respondents reported applying to an average of 17 firms, and of the firms they bid on during on-campus interviews, they received an average of 4.7 interviews during early interview week. Close to a third of participants reported getting zero interviews.

Some students who did not get an associateship mentioned getting judicial internships or in-house legal department positions. In contrast, others cited falling back on previous jobs like working at Olive Garden, Target, or a grocery store. Others indicated they’d keep networking and making connections, such as one student who said, “It has been difficult to ascertain exactly why I was selected for so few interviews, but I’ll keep working until I succeed.”