PHILADELPHIA — Tony Chiaramonte, a Drexel University law school graduate, is one of the fortunate ones. He landed a coveted clerkship with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin at the start of his third year in school.

Before he got the job, which he will start in September, Chiaramonte sent out 200 to 300 applications.

Total yield? Two return calls.

“I think I hit every state,” said Chiaramonte, 29, who graduated May 17. “I was not discriminating against any state.”

Even as a robust employment market has emerged for lawyers with several years’ experience, a sobering new reality awaits this year’s crop of law school graduates: The market for those fresh out of school has rebounded only slightly from its recessionary lows and remains very weak.

Big law firms report that hiring of graduates is well down from its peak of just a few years ago, when legal work was plentiful and firms competed for first-year lawyers.

This year, firms are showing a little more flexibility in hiring summer interns and first-year lawyers, but the change is incremental.

Most important, law-firm leaders who once hoped that the hiring of young lawyers would return to its past peak now say it will likely stay down for years.

The struggling economy, continuing downward pressure on rates, and insistence by clients that their matters be staffed with experienced lawyers all are playing roles.

“I have a stack of resumes on my desk and a number of phone calls that I have put off making,” said Stephen A. Madva, managing partner of the Philadelphia firm Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP.

In years past, the firm brought in eight or nine new graduates each fall and hosted a class of about a dozen summer interns.

This year, Madva doesn’t anticipate hiring any first years, and the firm has only two summer interns.

Instead, it has been recruiting lawyers with several years’ experience and established client relationships.

“Our clients are not willing to pay us to train (young lawyers), and the numbers in the firm now are a pretty good match to the amount of work we have,” he said.

Most law schools still are collecting employment data on this year’s graduates, so the best information available is for the job search of last year’s class.

Figures compiled through February showed that, except for graduates of the very top schools, a great number of law school graduates hadn’t found jobs as lawyers.

Law schools say they expect this year’s results to be about the same. The hiring plans of law firms back up that assessment.

“It is not so terribly different from the way it has been for the past few years,” said Drexel law school dean Roger Dennis. “We are about even in absolute numbers with last year, and our sense is that the quality of the jobs is somewhat up.”

Yet it is an extremely tough market. Through Feb. 15, Drexel reported that 57 of its 131 graduates had full-time permanent work as lawyers, with nine more employed in full-time jobs in which a law school education was deemed to be an advantage. Others had found work in non-law jobs, while 17 still were looking for jobs.

Even for graduates of the University of Pennsylvania law school, who typically enjoy a high rate of success, the battered economy has exacted a price. Most of last year’s class found employment, 95 percent of the 274 graduates.

Yet there was a slight downward trend in the number of graduates employed in sought-after jobs with big firms, those with 500 or more lawyers. That number went down from 152 in 2008 to 125 last year, even though the class size had gone up.

Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, a major law firm in Philadelphia, will take on 23 first-year lawyers in the fall, up from 19 in 2010, when the legal world was still adjusting to the financial collapse, but still down from 37 in 2009.