Across the board, there has been a true departure from the traditional program for summer associates because of COVID-19. Most firms have elected to follow one of two approaches in lieu of their regular schedules. Some are canceling programs entirely, while others are choosing to move ahead with appropriate modifications. While neither model is perfect, firms are continuing to share updates and insights with those looking to take part in 2020 summer programs and have been quick to adapt as much as they can.
CANCELED PROGRAMS FOR SOME
Many associates and recent graduates have voiced concern over law firms who have chosen to cancel their summer programs entirely, leaving participants without the ability to professionally develop certain skills. This is causing a lot of concern with candidates calling into question what their future employment and compensation. As a result, firms are worried about canceled programs tarnishing their reputations. To combat this, firms who have canceled programs are making a variety of concessions to try to put candidates at ease.
When it comes to compensation, law firms are not following one distinct process. Some firms have vowed to honor their full financial commitments to candidates, while others are offering stipends in place of their programs — most ranging from $5,000–$10,000. Unfortunately, a very small fraction of firms have chosen to forgo payment entirely, leaving participants without any form of compensation for the summer.
Similar to how they are handling compensation terms, firms are also taking varied approaches to hiring in the wake of COVID-19. While the state of future employment is admittedly unknown, most firms are actually opting to offer full-time positions to “would-be” summer associates — which is good news for the lucky candidates. These “new hires” would have anticipated start dates ranging from fall 2021 to early 2022. Other firms are openly taking a wait-and-see approach, holding off on committing to full-time job offers at this time.
Transparency in communication has had the biggest impact on firms’ reputations to date. Many law firms made the tough decision to move forward with program cancellations as early as March, giving candidates flexibility to either find another program or work out an alternative arrangement for the summer months.
While early communication is the gold standard, other firms left potential associates in the dark, creating even more uncertainty for would-be associates during this time. By waiting until the last minute, these firms are putting summer associate applicants in a terrible situation — and not only from a logistical and financial standpoint. They are also causing associates to second-guess the opportunity costs of selecting firms’ programs and increasing their anxiety about soon heading into third-year hiring.