Russell H. Falconer, a law student spending six weeks in the Dallas office of Vinson & Elkins, has a mission: Get a job offer for the fall of 2009. Falconer grew up in Dallas and hopes to launch his legal career in his hometown after he graduates from the University of Texas School of Law in May 2009.

“I’m trying to do the best job that I can to convince them that I would be a good person to have in the office,” says Falconer. He will also be spending six weeks this summer in the Dallas office of Haynes and Boone. This is Falconer’s second tour as a summer associate with V&E.

“I think I’m less nervous, because I’ve been here before, and there are a lot of familiar faces,” he says. During the summer of 2007, “I felt more like a deer in the headlights, doing everything for the first time.”

Falconer has one of the 948 summer associate positions available at 24 of Texas’ 25 largest firms. The number of Texas positions is down 8.9 percent from the 1,040 slots available to law students during the summer of 2007 at the same firms, according to Texas Lawyer‘s annual Summer Associates Survey. The 25 firms are identified on Texas Lawyer’s “The Texas 100” poster. Austin-based Brown McCarroll declined to participate in the Summer Associates Survey. [See related charts below.]

The decrease in summer positions, when compared with the number of positions at the same firms in 2007, is the first decline in summer hiring since 2004.

The decreased hiring indicates firms are being conservative about associate hiring in the near future, says recruiter Robert Rowland of Houston-based Associated Counsel of America. “These firms want to make offers to all their summer associates,” he says. “So the number they bring in has some correlation to the number of offers they plan to make. They are trying to project ahead and looking ahead to the economy and credit crunch in making their decision.”

Rowland notes that litigation activity is down and transactions are declining or, for some firms, about to decline. “Transactions, if they haven’t gone down already, are expected to with the economy,” Rowland says. “There is some likelihood that if the economy gets really rough, there will be a lot of workout and bankruptcy and perhaps an uptick in litigation. But right now, there’s not much litigation. There is a real slowdown.”

The firms with the largest decreases in their Texas summer associate classes include Hunton & Williams, Fulbright & Jaworski, Bracewell & Giuliani and Baker Botts.

Uncertainty about the economy is the reason Richmond, Va.-based Hunton & Williams hired just five summer associates in Texas this summer, a 75 percent decrease from the 20 Texas summer associates the firm hired for the summer of 2007, says Patrick E. Mitchell, managing partner of the Dallas office.

In April 2007, 93 lawyers from now-defunct Jenkens & Gilchrist moved to Hunton & Williams’ Texas offices. Eleven law students who had expected to work as 2007 summer associates at Jenkens instead worked at Hunton & Williams. The firm had already recruited nine Texas summer associates during the fall of 2006, bringing the total number of 2007 Texas summer associates to 20.

“We definitely wanted to have fewer slots until we see how this market is going to shake out,” Mitchell says. The firm wanted to avoid hiring more summer associates than the number of full-time associate positions that will be available for the fall of 2009. “As a result, we can be very enthusiastic about our summer associates we have now,” he says. “We won’t have any problem finding a home for them.”

Houston-based Bracewell & Giuliani has 55 Texas summer associates this year, down 21 percent from the 70 summer associates the firm hired in 2007. The number of 2008 summer associates is within the firm’s usual goal for summer associates, says firm hiring partner Andrew M. Edison. “We are always looking at approximately 50 to 70, roughly, for Texas,” he says. “The firm is growing. There is no conscious effort to cut back at all.”

Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski’s Texas summer associate group totals 94 this year, or 28 percent fewer than the 130 Texas summer associates the firm hired last year. In a written statement, hiring partner Gerry Lowry says the firm consciously reduced the size of its summer program to focus attention on the “impressive group” who joined the firm for the summer.

“We wanted to ensure more one-on-one time and mentorship opportunities with our summer associates to help them experience the full scope of the complex legal work we do each day on behalf of our worldwide clients,” says Lowry, a partner in Houston.

Houston-based Baker Botts is bringing in 124 summer associates for its Texas offices, which is 15 percent fewer than the 146 summer associates the firm hired in 2007. The program is smaller because the firm went to a first half-only session in Houston and Dallas, says Rachel S. Koenig, director of recruiting and development.

Rather than two sessions covering 14 weeks, the firm now offers one session during which summer associates can work for six, seven, eight, nine or 10 weeks, Koenig says. “We have fewer people, but they are coming for a more condensed time period,” she says. “Because we made this change, the students who come to us will be more serious about long-term opportunities with us.”

ASKED AND ANSWERED

At V&E on May 22, Falconer was multitasking. He says he arrived at his office on the 36th floor of the firm’s downtown building at about 8:30 a.m., finished a project from the previous day, started work on drafting part of a complaint in a bankruptcy adversary proceeding and was doing some appellate research. Before lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Deep Ellum with associates David J. Tobin, Natalie E. West and Jane Ann R. Neiswender, Falconer says he put together some broad search terms to decrease the number of searches he needed to perform on Westlaw.

Regarding the appellate work, “I’ve been reading up on the trial court orders and the briefs filed in the case,” he says. “The supervising attorney’s office is close to mine, and when questions pop up I can go over and ask him a thing or two,” he says. The supervising attorney is Thomas S. Leatherbury, co-head of the firm’s appellate group and Falconer’s partner-mentor. Falconer says he has been leaving the firm each evening at about 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m.

During the first week of the his 2008 summer with V&E, Falconer says he enjoyed Sunday dinner at Javier’s Gourmet Mexicano restaurant with Leatherbury and litigation partner John C. Wander. “They told me a lot about what the firm has been doing, the kind of work it has been doing, what kind of stuff I might work on and the matters each of them are working on,” Falconer says. He also attended a firm happy hour on a Tuesday evening.

V&E matches each summer associate with a partner and an associate whose responsibilities are to build a rapport with the summer associate, oversee his work projects, facilitate social interaction with other firm attorneys and answer any questions.

Third-year litigation associate Elizabeth C. Brandon, Falconer’s associate-mentor, says her main responsibility is to guarantee that Falconer gets interesting work and exposure to how the firm’s litigation section operates.

“One of the reasons we like to assign both partner- and associate-mentors is because the associate-mentors are much more connected to the summer associate experience,” Brandon says. “It wasn’t that long ago that we were summer associates and didn’t know what we were doing either.”

While working hard since he started at the firm on May 19, Falconer also is evaluating whether V&E has interesting and varied work for its associates and what kind of workload associates handle. Falconer says he can ask Brandon questions about her work-life balance, how many hours she works and how often she works weekends. “Things you might be nervous asking a partner about,” he says.

Brandon says her usual work hours are 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; she says she typically arrives at the office an hour earlier to beat traffic. She also occasionally works on weekends and can put in a 60- to 75-hour workweek when preparing for trial. She recalls that when she was a 2004 summer associate with the firm, she was reluctant to ask questions about where to start her research on assigned projects. “I didn’t want to ask because I thought, ‘They’re going to think I’m stupid,’ ” she says. She could have saved time and energy by asking more questions, so Brandon encourages summer associates to ask about work, firm culture and anything else they feel they need to know.

“I don’t want Russ to walk away with a list of questions he couldn’t ask,” she says.

Houston-based V&E has 119 Texas summer associate positions, down from 128 in 2007. The firm has 545 lawyers in Texas and 740 firmwide.

A SHOESHINE AND A CHAT

At about 3 p.m. on May 20, Jackson Walker summer associate Ray Hafner and sixth-year associate Charles Kulkarni were sitting side by side in two of the three chairs set up on a platform at Nick’s Shoeshine in Houston. The two were taking an afternoon break and getting a $5 shine in a retail center on McKinney Street near the firm’s office.

“It was an opportunity to sit down and hang out for 15 minutes in the afternoon,” says Kulkarni, who is an intellectual property associate and a mentor for Hafner during the summer session. Hafner, who will be a third-year law student at the University of Virginia School of Law, says he earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Houston and hopes to begin his law career in Texas. He is spending his first summer session with Jackson Walker and a second summer session with Jones Day in Houston.

During the shoeshine, Kulkarni says the two discussed some discovery work and energy work Hafner was doing for the firm’s transaction department as well as his interest in media law. Kulkarni says he checks in with Hafner a few afternoons each week to help the summer associate integrate into the firm and to make sure Hafner is meeting the firm’s Houston partners and associates.

Hafner, who started on May 12, is one of seven summer associates in the firm’s Houston office.

Dallas-based, 325-lawyer Jackson Walker is bringing in 22 Texas summer associates this year, down from the 25 the firm hired last year.

“There are assigning partners for both transaction and litigation,” he says. “We get an e-mail saying such and such is assigned to you, and you go meet with the assigning attorney and find exactly what it is they want.” Hafner says that determining where to begin on a project is, usually, the most difficult decision. “I guess you ask the person assigning and find out what they say is the best place to start,” he says. “If it’s something I don’t understand, I will go to Google first to learn the terms and then start looking at some case law or practice guides,” he says.

Like V&E, summer associates with Jackson Walker have a partner-mentor as well as an associate-mentor. Real estate partner Vytas A. Petrulis is Hafner’s partner-mentor. Hafner says his mentors are attorneys he is not doing any work for but whom he can approach for help or information. He says the summer associates’ projects are listed in the firm’s computer system. “Everyone can see how many projects you have and their time frame,” Hafner says.

Hafner arrived at his 20th-floor downtown office at 8:20 a.m. on May 23. He says he attended a meeting with the litigation group to discuss current projects, then reviewed cases and performed the research required to prepare a motion. He joined a group of 14, including seven summer associates and a mix of firm partners and associates, for lunch at Doneraki Restaurant where the group discussed judges and which ones were frightening in the courtroom.

Hafner says he usually heads home by 5:30 p.m., unless there is a firm social event such as attending the Houston Astros game on May 22. He joined firm partners, associates and summer associates in a stadium suite and spent time talking with first-year litigation and media associate Ryan D. Pittman. “I got a good sense of what his day-to-day is like, a good sense of what he does,” Hafner says.

Associate Kulkarni says the firm’s billable-hours target for associates is 1,950 hours. Kulkarni says his workweek varies a lot, with a weekly billable goal of 45 hours. Additionally, he sometimes spends time on nonbillable work such as evaluating incoming cases and writing articles.

Hafner says he has a few goals to accomplish during his summer tenure with Jackson Walker. “I think I just want to make a good impression and do good legal work and meet the rest of the associates here and have a good time,” Hafner says. “And, hopefully, get an offer in hand.”


Summer Associates at Large Texas Firms

Firm No. of Summer Associates 2008 (1L/2L) No. of Summer Associates 2007 (1L/2L) Weekly Texas Salary 2008 Weekly Texas Salary 2007
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld 48 (9/39) 53 (14/39) $2,933 $2,600
Andrews Kurth 51 (16/35) 46 (13/33) $3,077 $2,700
Baker Botts 124 (14/110) 146 (28/118) $3,077 $2,700
Bracewell & Giuliani 55 (10/45) 70 (10/60) $2,700 $2,700
Clark, Thomas & Winters 6 (0/6) 6 (0/6) $2,000 $2,000
Cox Smith Matthews 19 (0/19) 11 (0/11) $2,300 $2,300
Fulbright & Jaworski 94 (39/55) 130 (55/75) $3,077 $2,700
Gardere Wynne Sewell 33 (2/31) 29 (7/22) $3,077 $2,100 1L/$2,600 2L
Haynes and Boone 71 (14/57) 68 (11/57) $3,077 $2,700
Hunton & Williams* 5 (0/5) 20 (0/20) $3,080 $2,800
Jackson Walker 22 (5/17) 25 (5/20) $3,000 $2,600
Jones Day* 47 (3/44) 49 (17/32) $3,077 $2,885
Kelly Hart & Hallman 9 (0/9) 10 (0/10) $2,300 $2,200
King & Spalding* 12 (4/8) 16 (2/14) $3,100 $2,700
Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis* 15 (2/13) 23 (4/19) $3,080 $2,600
Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell 68 (13/55) 79 (24/55) $3,076 $3,076
Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr 10 (0/10) 8 (0/8) $2,600 $2,600
Patton Boggs* 16 (3/13) 15 (3/12) $3,070 $2,600
Strasburger & Price 10 (0/10) 7 (0/7) $2,100 $2,100
Thompson & Knight 36 (0/36) 36 (0/36) $3,080 $2,700
Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons 10 (0/10) 10 (0/10) $1,650 $1,650
Vinson & Elkins 119 (45/74) 128 (28/100) $3,077 $3,077
Weil, Gotshal & Manges* 40 (2/38) 29 (5/24) $3,077 $3,077
Winstead 28 (2/26) 26 (7/19) $2,600 $2,600
Note: The largest 25 firms as listed on Texas Lawyer‘s 2008 The Texas 100 poster, published April 28, 2008, were invited to participate in the Summer Associates Survey. Brown McCarroll declined to participate. The chart includes only summer associates working in the firms’ Texas offices.
* Firm is not based in Texas.
Texas Lawyer, June 2008

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