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For all the fun events lined up — cooking classes, horseback riding, trips to Yosemite National Park — summer associate programs are serious business. Christopher Sundermeier, Cooley Godward’s primary point partner for his firm’s summers, calls the program the firm’s future. “You get to go to some fun events,” Sundermeier said, “but my own personal view is the summer program, which tends to be our main source of hiring, is one of the most important functions.” Firms are still putting on parties for summer associates, many of whom arrive this month at Silicon Valley firms, but the students are fewer in number than during the boom years. Cooley is playing host to 47 summer associates this year, a modest dip from the 51 summers the firm sponsored last year. Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich shrunk its summer program, too, though more dramatically. The firm is bringing in 26 associates this summer, compared with 45 associates last year. Richard Yankwich, the partner in charge of Gray Cary’s program, said that last year the firm had to defer offers to first-years and didn’t need as many new recruits. Gray Cary is trying to make the smaller group feel more at home. Instead of reporting directly to the office where they will spend their summer, the associates will kick off the program with festivities in San Francisco, Yankwich said. “Everybody gets to meet everybody else,” Yankwich said. “It’s one of the ways they can get to know there are a lot of people in their position.” Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is playing host to a slightly bigger class of associates this summer, with 32 students, compared with last year’s class of 31. But the firm is experimenting with its program by inviting a first-year student from Harvard Law School — instead of the usual second- and third-years. Matthew Sonsini, the partner in charge of Wilson Sonsini’s program, said the hope is the first-year will tell good tales about the firm back at school. Sonsini said students at East Coast law schools assume the firm is suffering because of the Silicon Valley’s economic doldrums, but the firm is trying to get the message out that that’s not the case. “We are struggling with being grouped in with the other Silicon Valley firms, particularly on the East Coast,” Sonsini said. “In this tougher time, we’re putting distance between us and the competitors.” Summer associates appear to be taking the programs more seriously, since getting an offer isn’t guaranteed the way it was during the boom. Last year, Bay Area firms reported that some of their students were turning down social events, so they could stay at the office to work. Sundermeier said he’s getting the impression that everyone is more focused on the work these days. That doesn’t deter him from passing out the sign-up sheet for the fun events the firm has planned. “We try to get as many different attorneys in the firm,” Sundermeier said. “It will be a pretty good mix of summer associates and partners and associates.”

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