If you are considering going to an elite law school, now may be a good time.

After several years of delayed recovery, the high end of the legal industry is showing some signs of robust health. The National Law Journal announced that full-time job offers to summer associates have reached their highest rate in a decade. This is good news for law students evaluating their chances to secure high paying firm jobs.

Landing a summer associate position (where law students clerk for a firm during the summer between 2L and 3L year) at a BigLaw firm has historically been known to result in a full-time, long-term job offer. Prior to the recession, if you managed to land a summer associate position at a BigLaw firm, you were pretty much guaranteed to have a job waiting for you upon graduation. Not just any job, either. These large firms pay generous market-rate salaries (currently pegged at $160,000 a year for first year associates).

The recession led to a major contraction in the availability of summer associate positions in such firms, which was painful enough for aspiring lawyers. Worse still, even if you managed to land a BigLaw summer associateship, a permanent offer was no longer all but guaranteed. A nerve-wracking 69% of summer associates received offers in 2009.

Luckily, this uncertainty has largely disappeared. According to data from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), nearly 95% of law students who worked at a summer position went on to secure full-time employment.

Thankfully, these better odds are likely to become the new norm. In stronger hiring markets, firms are much more likely to extend an offer after the summer. The dreaded “no offer” scenario is much less likely, since law firms fear that talented law students will take notice of their low offer rate and head to other firms.

As large law firms regain strength and seek to expand, we expect “no-offers” remain rare (barring another financial meltdown). As long you avoid pitfalls, such as having a destructive love affair with a partner (trust me, it happens), your chances of landing an offer after a summer associateship are pretty solid. Anecdotally, my BigLaw friends tell me that the “summers” (an informal term for summer associates) in the latest class were less conscientious than ever, turning in poor work and missing deadlines. If they are still getting hired (which they are) it’s a sign that the power has shifted back to the law students.

The better news, perhaps, is that summer associate class sizes are also expanding again for the sixth year in a row, with the average summer class cohort now also reaching pre-recession levels. Like last year, progress on this front is patchy. A majority of BigLaw firms are making more summer associateship offers, but nearly 30% are making fewer. NALP also notes that hiring at the very largest firms, those with 700 or more lawyers, has not quite recovered and is not expected to do so in the near term.

Some firms have also expanded their interviewing. Nearly a third of these firms are visiting more campuses than last year. Note, however, that nothing in NALP’s announcements constitutes a sea-change from prior years. Large firms will continue to recruit most heavily from a select number of schools. If you want a great job, you’ve still gotta get into a great law school.

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