Third-year law student Giselle Torres says it may sound trite, but she accepted an offer to become an associate with Bracewell & Giuliani mostly because she connected with the people at the Houston-based firm.
Torres, who was a 2009 summer associate at Bracewell's Houston office and at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Dallas, says she decided to join Bracewell after she graduates from law school in May because the firm seems like the best fit.
"It really came down to the people. Not that the people at Weil Gotshal weren't nice, but I felt Bracewell was a better fit," says Torres, who attends the University of Houston Law Center. "They are just ... people-people. They have a great rapport with their clients."
When at Bracewell last summer, Torres says she spent part of her time doing energy, finance, infrastructure and real estate work and the rest working on trial matters. She says she was invited to join the corporate or litigation practices but isn't sure yet which she will choose.
Torres declines to say if she received an offer from Weil Gotshal. She says as a summer associate she did some trial and corporate work at Weil Gotshal.
"It was two different firms, different cultures. I wanted an opportunity to weigh the two," she says.
Torres, who went to law school after working for 10 years in TV journalism in other states and then in video production and marketing at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, is among the lucky law students who landed summer associate positions at BigTex firms in 2009 and received offers for permanent jobs they will start sometime after graduating in May. Torres says Bracewell has told her to expect to start work in November.
It's unlikely anyone would say no to a full-time job offer in this economy. In fact, with graduation less than five months away, former summer associates accepted full-time offers even though some firm leaders did not tell them their start date or salary.
San Antonio-based Cox Smith Matthews had a 2L summer associate class of 15 in 2009. Shareholder Scott Bankler, chairman of the firm's recruiting committee, says 100 percent of the seven summer associates who received full-time offers accepted. Those associates will start in January 2011, Bankler says.
By comparison, in 2008 the firm extended full-time offers to 17 of 19 2L summer associates and nine, or 53 percent, accepted.
The firm will pay a $120,000 starting salary to associates who will start work a year from now, which is the same starting salary current first-year lawyers receive, Bankler says.
About the rise in 2009 acceptance rates, he says, "I'd like to think it's all about us. We offer something special here with a growing economy in San Antonio, or at least one that is not as bad as it is around the rest of the country. We have good quality work and great clients to do it for."
But he concedes that the economic downturn likely also affected the perfect acceptance rate. "Obviously, you are seeing the demand for associates is going down," he says.
Seventeen of Texas' 26 largest firms, as listed on Texas Lawyer 's "The Texas 100" poster, published April 27, 2009, provided information about the number of offers extended to 2009 Texas summer associates and the number of offers accepted.
Acceptance rates are up at 14 of the firms when compared with the acceptance rates reported by those firms for 2008. Acceptance rates were down at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Hunton & Williams; and Weil Gotshal. [See the chart: "Acceptance Rates at Large Texas Firms." (paid subscription required)]
Five of Texas' largest firms did not provide information for this article. Baker Botts of Houston and Baker & McKenzie, which has Texas offices in Dallas and Houston, decline to provide information by presstime on Jan. 7. K&L Gates, which has offices in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, declines to provide acceptance rate numbers. Two firms -- Gardere Wynne Sewell of Dallas and King & Spalding, which has offices in Houston and Austin -- did not respond to requests for information before presstime.
Two firms -- Clark Thomas & Winters of Austin and Greenberg Traurig, with offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston -- did not offer permanent positions to any 2009 Texas summer associates. Clark, Thomas had six 2L summer associates and Greenberg Traurig had three.
Jay Breedveld, chairman of Clark Thomas' recruiting committee, says in the fall of 2009 the firm decided it did not have enough business to extend permanent offers to its 2L summer associates. "We decided not to make any offers," he says.
Greenberg Traurig regional operating shareholder Ralph Santos writes in an e-mail that the firm advised the three students at the start of the summer that offers would depend on expected client needs in their areas of interest. "As it turns out, the demand was not there and offers were not extended," Santos writes.
Brown McCarroll of Austin does not have a summer associate program and Dallas-based Winstead canceled its 2009 summer associate program. [See "No Summer Program," Texas Lawyer.]
Vinson & Elkins will have the largest class of new associates among BigTex firms that provided information. The Houston-based firm offered jobs to 77 of last year's 105 Texas 2L summer associates, and 54 accepted, giving the firm a 70 percent acceptance rate. In 2008, the firm made offers to 70 of its 74 second-year summer associates and 37 took those offers for an acceptance rate of 53 percent.
Quentin Smith, a third-year law student at the University of Michigan Law School, accepted an offer to become a full-time V&E associate. In 2009, Smith worked as a summer associate at V&E and Baker Botts and says he received permanent job offers from both firms.
"It was actually a really tough decision. I had a really good experience at both firms. It came down to familiarity," says Smith, who interned at V&E during the summers while earning his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta and was a summer associate at the firm after his first and second years of law school.
"I chose V&E mostly because of the atmosphere, and the lawyers were really nice to me, and they gave me challenging and interesting work and also a lot of advice," he says.
Smith says last summer he worked in the trial and public finance sections at V&E and the trial and corporate sections at Baker Botts. He expects to work in commercial litigation when he joins V&E sometime this fall. The firm has not given him salary information, he says.
At V&E, hiring partner Thomas S. Leatherbury of Dallas says the firm anticipated the higher acceptance rate, given the economy and the fact that many large Texas firms now offer only one summer session.
Leatherbury says in past years the firm's offer letters required new associates to begin their permanent jobs in September, unless they received an exemption from the firm. But, like most BigTex firms, V&E delayed the start dates for its 2009 associate class. New associates had a choice between beginning work in November 2009 or January 2010. [ See "Ready, Set, Delay: Most Large Texas Firms Push Back Start Dates," Texas Lawyer . ]
But for the 2010 associate class, the offer letter reads in part, "Currently, we anticipate that the reporting date for the Class of 2010 will be in the fall of 2010. The specific start dates will be set by the Management Committee in the first quarter of 2010."
Before setting the start date for the 2010 new associates, Leatherbury says the firm's management committee wanted to get experience in 2009 with two start dates and assess the continuing impact of the economy on work flow.
"We were honest and said we will set the date or dates later, in the first quarter of 2010," he says. "We gave them what certainty we could, given the current environment."
For the 2010 class, the firm's offer letters state that the new associates' compensation package includes a $3,000 graduation bonus and a salary advance of up to $10,000. It also reads that "the annual salary for the class of 2010 has not been set yet."
Nine BigTex firms report sending offer letters without set salaries, in most instances identifying the salaries paid to their current first-year associates and stating that the firm will remain competitive with the market. Those firms are Dallas-based Akin Gump, Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell, Strasburger & Price, Thompson & Knight, and Haynes and Boone; Houston-based Bracewell, V&E, and Andrews Kurth; and Weil, Gotshal, which has offices in Dallas and Houston. Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski declines to indicate whether it has set a salary for its 2010 first-year associate class.
This is the first time Leatherbury, who has been V&E's hiring partner for eight years, has seen V&E send new associates offer letters that do not state a starting annual salary.
"Typically, we would put a salary figure in there," he says. "But there is so much volatility in the market. I think that what you are seeing is that firms are not comfortable doing that, even firms that probably have no intention of changing the starting salary."
At Akin Gump, a lower percentage of its 2L summer associates accepted full-time associate offers in 2009 compared to 2008. In Texas, the firm extended 13 offers to its 25 2L summer associates for 2009, nine of which were accepted, a rate of 69 percent. By comparison, the firm extended 29 offers to its 38 2L summer associates for 2008, 23 of which were accepted, a rate of 79 percent.
However, Charles R. Gibbs, Akin Gump's Dallas office hiring partner, says the difference is not meaningful.
"It's really a function of having a smaller class, so one person's decision moves the needle," Gibbs says. He notes that if only one more associate had accepted a full-time associate offer in 2009, the percentage for both years would be nearly equal.
Industrywide, Gibbs suggests, the troubled economy influenced acceptance rates. "One could safely draw the conclusion that the trend of high acceptance rates is responsive to the economic environment," Gibbs says.
His firm did not this year -- nor has it since 2004 or 2005 -- told summer associates in their full-time offer letters precisely what to expect in terms of pay. "We don't want to set a salary at that point," Gibbs says.
Overall, he says, the summer associates at Akin Gump often split their summers with a firm in a different state. They also are so well qualified that they seemed immune to the market conditions, he says.
Michael Telle, hiring partner at Houston's Bracewell, agrees that the economy played a significant role in the higher acceptance rates the firm achieved this year when extending full-time associate offers to summer associates.
At Bracewell in 2009, the firm had 47 2L summer associates. It extended offers to 29, and 23 -- including Torres -- accepted for a rate of 79 percent. By comparison, in 2008 Bracewell had 42 2L summer associates. It extended full-time offers to 38, and 24 accepted, a rate of 63 percent.
Telle says the firm has not yet told those prospective associates their salary or exact start date. The date most likely will be in November, as it was in 2009, Telle says. The big question is whether Bracewell will have all the new hires start the same day or sometime during a six-week window.
Soraya Walden, director of recruiting for Jackson Walker, says this year's new associates will join the firm Sept. 7. But their starting salary will be $145,000, a $15,000 drop compared to the salaries of previous new associates, Walden says.
Jackson Walker extended associate offers to 10 of its 23 2L summer associates for 2009, and 100 percent accepted -- despite the lower pay. In 2008, the firm had 16 2L summer associates and extended 12 full-time associate offers, nine of which were accepted -- a 75 percent acceptance rate.
Walden says the firm has weathered the recession well, adding that management agreed that the revenue flow was steady enough to handle an influx of associates in September 2010.