28 DAYS – The Big Squeeze Continues

While we’re waiting for NALP to reveal what it decided on April 26 — when it was supposed to grapple with the problem of getting biglaw firms to provide career tracking information on their non-equity partners (see my April 21 post: “Will Anyone Notice on April 27?”) — consider another recent NALP move…

Twenty-eight days sounds like a lot of time, doesn’t it?

On February 26, 2010, NALP announced a new provisional guideline. Beginning in August 2010, students receiving summer or permanent job offers from new prospective employers will have 28 days to respond. Yea or nay…up or down…fish or cut bait…

You get the idea.

NALP ignored the elephants in the room: law firms follow no uniform timetable in extending offers and, even worse, an accepted offer can turn out to be bogus when the employer later withdraws or defers it. When that happens, the victim is without recourse.

In other words, the ongoing capitulation to biglaw’s demands continues. In 2008, NALP adopted the prior rule giving students 45 days to ponder the decision that could shape their futures. Most big firms thought that was too long. Before that, students had until December 1. Before NALP existed, they had as much time as an individual firm gave them — which was usually a lot.

Do you detect a one-sidedness to the trend? Law firms have always retained flexibility to make rolling offers at their pleasure and to revoke them at will. Who’s looking out for the students?

Not NALP:

“Member feedback…has indicated that a shorter period will still allow students sufficient time to choose among competing offers.”  (http://www.nalp.org/provisionaltimingguidelines2010)

Ah, “member feedback.” Who provides that? Not students or anyone committed to their best interests, that’s for sure.

NALP’s board consists of biglaw representatives and law school career development officers seeking to maximize their graduates’ placements in large law firms. That means the big firms wield commanding voices.

The new guideline is an example. Biglaw scuttled NALP’s recommendation to move “the current recruiting model away from rolling response deadlines to a model based on ‘offer kickoff dates,’ the specific dates before which offers could not be made,” followed by a universal 14-day response period. That wasn’t perfect, but at least it would have allowed students to know all of their options before locking in their final answers.

Under the new rule, they’ll never know what might have been. Then again, based on biglaw’s associate attrition rates immediately preceding the Great Recession, the vast majority of new hires won’t remain with their first employers for more than three years anyway.

Whether students should rush like lemmings to the sea toward biglaw opportunities is a question that most students don’t consider, but they should. Shortening the response time won’t help them or the profession’s growing problem of attorney career dissatisfaction.

After piling up enormous law school debts as new job offers dwindle, are any of you prospective biglaw associates feeling squeezed again?

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