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San Francisco-As the economy improves and deals begin to flow into California’s Silicon Valley anew, firms are again relying on midlevel corporate associates to do a lot of the work. Trouble is, three years of deal drought have left many of those associates short on the experience necessary to handle the tasks. “There is a hollowing out of lawyering skills in Silicon Valley,” said Rod Howard, a partner in New York-based Weil, Gotshal & Manges’ Redwood Shores, Calif., office. Some young lawyers “don’t have a normal, reasonable toolbox.” Midlevel associates are valuable to firms because they have more experience than rookie attorneys, yet usually are not involved in originating their own deals, as are more senior associates and partners. Instead, firms rely on midlevel associates to do a substantial amount of the work related to corporate deals, ranging from conducting due diligence reviews to writing first drafts of crucial documents. During the economic boom of the late 1990s and into 2000, scores of midlevel corporate associates were kept busy in the Valley, handling a flood of deals, particularly initial public offerings and venture capital work. When the bubble burst, several firms laid off lower-level associates, and the associates who remained struggled to stay busy. Further robbing those associates of substantive work were clients who insisted on working directly with partners-who suddenly were more available. Now that work is picking up again, firms are struggling to cope with thin ranks among those associate classes, particularly the classes of 2000 and 2001. And many of the associates that rode out the recession and stayed at firms don’t have the skills they should. “Firms want a consistent level of experience among all their ranks to properly staff deals,” said Carl Baier, president of Baier Legal Search and a former litigator with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. “You can’t have six partners and one first-year working on a deal-or vice versa, for that matter.” These days, managing partners and recruiters scrutinize associates’ experience more closely than they once did, Baier said. For example, he said, “third-year” is no longer shorthand for a particular level of experience. “People want to know if they were just playing pingpong at the printer or what they were actually working on.” Wilson Sonsini partner Martin Korman said most of his firm’s associates remained busy after the tech crash, in part because the firm did lose so many people. Between 2001 and 2003, Wilson shed more than 130 lawyers, thinning its ranks to a current level of about 570.

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