Photo by Ian Waldie/Bloomberg
Photo by Ian Waldie/Bloomberg

Are We Seeing the Death of Summer Associate Programs?

Last year, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan announced that it would largely do away with its summer program. Will the litigation powerhouse just be the first in a longer line of lemming-like law firms to scrap their young summer ranks?

Edward Colbert, managing partner of Kenyon & Kenyon, said in an interview on Thursday, that some firms he’s discussing a possible merger with “are not having summer programs.” That prompted his recruiting head Elizabeth Knechtges to call the firm’s incoming class of seven summer associates and alert them about the uncertain situation.

“Because we are discussing mergers, there might be a situation where we don’t have (a summer program),” said Colbert. “We wanted to give them as much of a heads up as we could and tell them that we will give you all the help we can… We know other firms that are looking for potential summer clerks and we can revert you to them.”

Colbert said that the calls placed by Knechtges earlier this week included five full-time summer associates and two part-time. She reached out to each of them personally, and then sent a follow-up email, he said.

“It’s not a warning, it’s a notice,” said Colbert, noting that the firm is still looking forward to its June summer program for the time being. He also clarified that Quinn Emanuel is not one of the firms Kenyon is discussing a merger with.

The development, which was first reported by Above the Law, prompted us to ask: Which firms are Colbert talking about that don’t have summer programs anymore? Which students does this affect? And is this really becoming a trend, that law firms are doing away with their summer programs? Or just a convenient talking point to downplay Enechtges’ phone call and deflect attention from Kenyon & Kenyon?

That law firms have scaled back their summer programs isn’t news and has been reported on over the past several years. Brian Dalton at Breaking Media reported in 2013 on the decline. When he looked at data between 2007 and 2013, he found that only eight firms among the AmLaw 50 increased the size of their summer classes: Sullivan & Cromwell, Cravath and Davis Polk, among others. But Colbert insisted that the trend is continuing and… even worsening?

“Some have pulled back and others have canceled entirely,” Colbert said, although he did not provide firm names.

We reached out to several law firms at random — Winston & Strawn, Chadbourne & Park and Goodwin Procter — and asked their recruiting leaders to speak with us about the topic. We’ll update this post if we hear back from them. But in the meantime, let us know what you think and send tips if you’ve heard of law firms downsizing their summer programs. Our email is BigLawBusiness@bna.com.

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