With 2Ls facing a notably dismal summer job market, I’m wondering whether NALP’s “general standards for the timing of offers and decisions” finally will implode. For 2L summer hiring, NALP states that firms with more than 40 lawyers “should leave . . . offers open for at least 45 days following the date of the offer letter or until December 30, whichever comes first.” Second year students “should not hold open more than five offers of employment at any one time. For each offer received that places a candidate over the offer limit, the candidate should, within one week of receipt of the excess offer, release an offer. ”
This year the NALP standards will frustrate law firms and 2Ls alike. First, consider the standards from the perspective of a prestigious-but-not-quite-as-prestigious law firm. They know that their competitors higher up on the food chain will hire fewer 2Ls this year and that 2Ls know this as well. If the prestigious-but-not-quite-as-prestigious law firm wanted to make a play for a top student, an exploding offer would be a darn good strategy. Nothing like the worst economy since the Great Depression to make even stellar students appreciate a bird in hand.
Of course, law schools might forbid a firm that violated the NALP standards from on-campus interviewing in future years. Or law schools might look the other way, in part because schools promote themselves among prospective students by having a very long list of firms that interview on campus. One can also imagine informal agreements not to abide by the NALP standards among law firms in a particular region. Only the best law schools could afford to ban them all.
Now consider all of this from the prospective of a 2L who wants a job at, say, Cravath. In a different hiring year, she eventually would have received an offer from Cravath, although not in their first round. This year, however, the job market is such that most of the students who get first-round offers from Cravath never receive more than five offers, so they are able to hang onto their Cravath offers for the full 45 days. Meanwhile, the 2L who is gunning for Cravath has to accept an offer from a different firm, because she has run up against her own 45 day deadline.
One fair response to this last scenario is that in today’s market, no saavy student is going to hold on to an offer for 45 days; instead, the student will simply accept. But that just highlights that NALP will become increasingly irrelevant as its standards continue to reflect what the 2L market used to look like, instead of what it looks like today.