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Time to Bring Back the Summer Associate

Posted by Jonathan R. Fitzgarrald on Nov 3, 2016 1:04:16 PM

Stay Relevant With Your Client Base: Bring Millenials Into Your Firm

By: Jonathan Fitzgarrald

According to “The National Law Journal,” law firm summer associate programs are on the rise and it’s paying off: 95 percent of summer associates who clerked for law firms in the summer of 2015 were offered permanent positions after graduation. This is the highest rate since 2007, and up significantly from the low of 69 percent in 2009.

Prior to 2008, BigLaw was booming and firms kept pace with client demand by hiring law students for summer associate positions. These students were groomed to become associates and many received full-time offers upon graduation. But with the Great Recession came significant changes across the legal landscape: as the economic downturn bled into all sectors, companies drastically cut their legal budgets and in response, law firms scaled back across the board, including campus recruitment efforts.

Now that the dust has settled and the economy has stabilized, the pendulum appears to be swinging back as the legal field tries to find equilibrium. BigLaw firms are still laying off attorneys, but client acquisition is on the rise. After years of downsized summer associate classes, we are witnessing an upward trend. Why now?

A Growing Generational Gap

Law firms are realizing that, by eliminating or reducing summer programs and law grad recruitment for almost a decade, they’ve widened the generational gap between their attorneys and their clients. Millennials are now the largest generational group in the country and workforce. This is not mirrored in law firms, where most of the attorneys are Baby Boomers and, to a lesser degree, Generation X.

Such a distinct gap can have negative consequences. For instance, a large generational gap between attorneys and clients can lead to a decrease in client satisfaction. Millennials interact with technology differently than previous generations; they are more likely to communicate through text and email than telephone. They may expect their attorney to have a similar relationship with technology. This can be problematic when dealing with Boomer generation lawyers, who may still use phone calls as their primary form of client communication. Millennial clients may see this interaction as intrusive or even irritating.

If that weren’t enough, this generation gap also exists between firm attorneys and in-house counsel, who are primarily Gen Xers and Millennials. This disconnect may affect the continuity and relevance of long-term relationships between firms and their corporate clients.

Closing the Gap

If firms do nothing, this gap is bound to get worse. Boomer generation attorneys will start retiring en masse in the next decade and the Millennials now graduating from law school are not getting the training needed to fill these roles. Additionally, if firms continue to ignore the need to invest in new law graduates, they will lose out to corporations in the competition for top legal talent.

Firms are beginning to recognize that summer associate programs and law school recruitment can aid in closing the generation gap. They can hire the summer associates who prove that they are a good fit. They can leverage Millennial law students’ relationships with technology to enhance their own practices. They can onboard these professionals by providing them with business development and marketing training while training them to become lawyers. 

Proactive firms will stay relevant to their ever-changing client base. The firms who are investing in summer associate programs now will have an easier time keeping up with the evolving legal landscape for many years to come.


 Jonathan R. Fitzgarrald.jpgJonathan R. Fitzgarrald is managing partner of Equinox Strategy Partners.  For nearly two decades, he has been providing strategic guidance to lawyers and law firms to drive revenue and increase market visibility. He can be reached at or 424.277.3200.






Topics: Technology Management, Marketing Management and Leadership, Communications

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