Pandemic Isn't Stopping Most Firms' Summer Programs

By Emma Cueto
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Law360 (June 12, 2020, 11:44 AM EDT) -- A new survey by the National Association for Law Placement had good news for law students in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, with the vast majority of law firms saying they plan to host their usual summer associate program and about half of law schools indicating they've scheduled the upcoming round of on-campus interviews.

In a survey released Thursday, the NALP found that, of the 359 individual offices that indicated they originally planned to host a summer program, 86% said the program would happen in 2020, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, most of the programs have been shortened, typically to five to six weeks, and 55% indicated the program would be entirely virtual. An additional 40% are planning to conduct the program partly virtually and partly in person, the survey found. Only 5% of offices said the program would be entirely in person.

Meanwhile, most law schools have changed their original on-campus interview dates for summer programs for 2021, but about half have a firm date set, the survey found.

Public schools were more likely than private schools to have dates lined up, and about 75% of schools with over 750 law students currently have dates, according to the survey. Most will hold interviews in January or February 2021.

In addition, 95% of schools said they were providing students with additional opportunities to gain practical skills, given the disruptions of the pandemic.

After the COVID-19 outbreak began in the U.S., some firms quickly pledged to keep summer programs intact, with some of the first being Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, Covington & Burling LLP and Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP. All three firms promised in late March that they would host a summer program.

After the initial reassurances, however, firms began to announce changes to the programs, pushing back start dates and deciding whether to host students virtually or in person. Some firms announced new dates immediately, while others simply announced they would be pushed back, taking more time to come up with a final timeline.

Some firms also began announcing that their programs would be cancelled entirely for the year, including Dechert and Pepper Hamilton, though such firms appeared to be a small minority, as was reflected in the NALP data.

Even among firms that cancelled programs, however, they often provided a stipend to students who had planned to attend and promised to make job offers to the class of 2021 as they normally would. Nixon Peabody was the only firm to announce its program was cancelled without any promise of job offers.

And while some students were told what the plan was early on, firms continued to announce details and changes all the way through late May.

The disruptions have prompted some to worry that members of the class of 2021 are being cheated out of valuable experience and asked to rely on job promises that no one can say for certain will, in fact, materialize.

Others in the legal industry have worried the situation may wind up stunting the profession as a whole, preventing the next generation of attorneys from developing skills that are valuable not only to their careers but to the profession itself.

--Editing by Marygrace Murphy.

Update: This story has been updated with additional information about changes to law firms' summer programs.

Correction: A previous version of this story listed the Cahill Gordon summer program as cancelled. This error has been corrected. 

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