After a season of layoffs and furloughs in tough economic times, most of the largest private New York law offices also have reduced the size of their incoming summer associate classes.
According to the New York Law Journal's annual survey of the summer class size among the top 25 largest law offices in New York, some of the biggest cuts were made in firms that have already reduced their workforce within the past year.
Latham & Watkins had the biggest percentage drop in class size, a 68 percent decrease. The firm, which cut 190 of its 2,322 lawyers in February, brought in only 26 summer associates this year for a 10-week program. Last year, the class size was 80, and the firm had at least 63 summer associates in each of the four prior years.
Shearman & Sterling, whose summer class peaked at 133 last year, brought in less than half of that number this summer for its nine-week program. In March, the 870-lawyer firm cut 60 support staff, citing the economy as the reason for the layoffs.
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson rounded out the list of firms with the largest percentage drop in 2L numbers, bringing in 32 associates for a 10-week program, compared with 69 summer lawyers last year. The firm cut 41 of its 675 attorneys, as well as 58 staff members, in March.
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel saw a 23 percent drop in its numbers compared to last year but the firm has typically had smaller summer class sizes, said co-hiring partner James A. Grayer.
In 2005, there were 18 summer associates, compared to 31 in 2008 and 24 this year. Keeping the class size small enables the firm to extend offers to all qualified summer associates, Grayer said.
"Our philosophy has always been [that] we don't hire more summer associates than we can make full-time job offers to in the future ... so we have always managed our numbers to provide everyone an offer assuming it's a good fit," he said.
The firm laid off 18 of its 372 attorneys in February, along with 21 staff. Grayer said this summer's associates would essentially have the same program as others in the past, but noted that firms across the board would be scaling back on "some of the extravagances of years past" given "what's appropriate" in light of the current economy.
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft is another firm that trimmed its program dating back to 2007, according to New York hiring committee chair Paul W. Mourning.
The 2007 class of 68 was reduced to 47 in 2008 and trimmed to 39 this summer, Mourning said.
"It was fortuitous, don't get me wrong. We didn't anticipate the downturn," he said, adding that the firm still has an "ongoing need for incoming associates" in practice groups such as financial restructuring, capital markets and antitrust litigation.
Since January 2008, the firm has laid off 131 of its 610 lawyers and underwent a "metamorphosis" resulting in the need to fill talent gaps at the junior levels of those practices, he said.
"Historically, the game was kind of the other way, we wanted to see as many people as possible," Mourning said, while this year the firm extended "a lot fewer offers and our acceptance rates were much higher."
And while summer associates will likely get more individual attention from partners and perhaps even higher quality assignments, Mourning said the firm will be even more selective in the future, starting with on-campus interviews this August.
"We are going to continue with the smaller class model," he said, although he dismissed any possibility that the firm would discontinue its summer program.
Truncated summer programs are also taking place across the country. The 23 2Ls at Philadelphia-based Blank Rome will have six weeks instead of 10 to make an impression and vie for a job offer. Atlanta firm Alston & Bird has cut back its program from 11 to nine weeks. Squire, Sanders & Dempsey has gone from a 10-week program to seven weeks.
Bucking the trend, several firms on the New York Law Journal list increased their summer class.
Debevoise & Plimpton's 53 percent jump to 104 summer associates was the largest increase. The firm had 68 associates last year.
This summer's class is "in keeping with the firm's historical norms," said supervising partner Kevin M. Schmidt. In a statement, he acknowledged that last year's class was "among the smaller of our classes in recent years," but he did not elaborate.
Schmidt said the firm "took a hard look at our social calendar earlier this year and did cancel or downscale some events in recognition of the current economic climate. We are also hosting more lunches at our firm. These changes have been well received and are enabling our summers to get to know us in a more casual and relaxed setting. Our 2009 program still offers our summers many opportunities to get out of the office and enjoy New York City."
Proskauer Rose and Kirkland & Ellis also have had double-digit percentage increases in summer class size. Proskauer, which cut 23 of its 784 attorneys in March, brought in 78 summer associates compared to 61 in 2008.
Kirkland's summer class jumped to 48, compared with 40 last year.
Jay Lefkowitz, a partner in the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis, said the focus will be on legal work rather than the social calendar. The goal, he said, is for associates to get "good legal experience" through interesting assignments and going to court with attorneys. While social activities are "obviously an important component" for associates to be able to get a feel for life at the firm, he said the firm has traditionally not had a "particularly lavish summer program."
Kirkland cut approximately 20 non-equity partners of its 1,490-lawyer roster earlier this year, according to New York Law Journal affiliate The American Lawyer.