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With only weeks left before graduation, Adam Wilczewski is hustling. The American University third-year law student and aspiring politician worked for Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s (D.-Conn.) presidential campaign during his second year of school and throughout last summer. “I [hoped] Lieberman was going to be president, and I could work in the White House,” he says. That isn’t going to happen, and now Wilczewski is looking for a job post-graduation. He is volunteering with the Democratic National Committee and the Public International Law and Policy Group, a nonprofit organization, hoping his work at both places and other personal contacts will land him a job. “I feel good. I feel positive,” Wilczewski says. “The question is: What’s the next step?” Because of the dot-com crash and the further erosion of the economy caused by the terrorist attacks, landing a job for graduates such as Wilczewski has not been the sure thing it seemed when they first entered school in 2001, when firms were hiring record numbers of new associates at astronomical salaries. Last year, students seemed to say, ” ‘Woe is me — the economy. I can’t find anything,’” says Traci Mundy Jenkins, director of AU’s career services office. In the last few years, the number of offers for associate positions dropped nationwide, while acceptance rates increased. Permanent offers for the 4,233 students participating in summer associate programs in 2002 was about 81 percent, a decline from 84 percent in 2001. In comparison, the associate offer rate was about 90 percent in 2000 and the late 1990s, according to a National Association for Law Placement (NALP) survey. The survey found the acceptance rates for those positions increased from about 66 percent in 2000 to 78 percent in 2002, the most recent year for which the group has statistics for associate offers. Increasingly, 2004 grads have been forced to consider posts that for many would not have been on the radar screen in the past: judicial clerkships, jobs in government, nonprofits, and small firms. Indeed, AU’s Jenkins says she is telling students to be even more flexible. She counsels them to “think of a federal clerkship in Minnesota as opposed to D.C.,” where the competition is more intense. For students entering law school this fall or for those with one or two years left before graduation, the outlook is better. Many law students get their jobs through their schools’ on-campus recruiting process, which occurs in the fall. Students interview at the beginning of their second year for a summer position when the school year ends. Ideally, they are offered permanent jobs at the end of summer, so their last year of school begins with the knowledge of where they will be after graduation. More firms came on-campus to recruit this past fall, although they are hiring fewer people, says Gihan Fernando, assistant dean for career services at Georgetown University Law Center. LuEllen Conti, the career services director at Howard University Law School, says there was an uptick in on-campus interviewing last fall. And she sees an increase in hiring activity so far this year. “We see light at the end of the tunnel,” Conti says. Second-year Howard law student Tameka Simmons was an intern at intellectual property firm Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner last summer and worked there this semester as a law clerk through an opportunity that became available through the firm’s association with the law school. Next month, Simmons will be a summer associate at general practice firm Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York, where the 2004 summer associates will be paid $2,400 weekly. “I think the market is better for us than the class above us,” Simmons says. Ayana Brooks knows that firsthand. Brooks, a Howard third-year, says she is not panicking, although she is still looking for a job. Other options: returning to school for a Ph.D. or teaching. Brooks says she knew when entering law school that “there was no guarantee as to what would happen in terms of the job market.” Many students, of course, are defying the weak market. Third-year Georgetown students Stacy Cooper and Brian Greer accepted permanent offers from their summer employers. Cooper will join Bracewell & Patterson in Houston, and Greer will work in Arnold & Porter’s D.C. office. LOOKING FOR OPTIONS The increase in the number of judicial clerkship applications suggests that students are looking at other options. According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, from 2002 to 2003 applications for legal professional jobs in the federal courts increased by 10,000, from roughly 145,000 to 155,000. Of those applications, 98 percent were for judicial clerkships, says AO spokesman David Sellers. Applicants were competing for 2,500 jobs in both years, he says. In the 1990s, when the market reached its peak, about 75 percent of Georgetown’s law students went to large firms, Fernando says. In 2003, 60 percent of the students went to large firms. Of the rest, about 20 percent went to the federal government or accepted judicial clerkships. And the remainder started work with nonprofits or took corporate jobs. “Like everybody else we were affected,” Fernando says, “but being Georgetown, we were not as affected as everybody else.” VIEW FROM THE PRIVATE SECTOR Mark Plotkin, hiring partner of D.C.’s Covington & Burling, noticed a pickup in the market for students based on growing recruiting competition from other firms. In the last few years, “we were able to waltz into law schools and hire whomever we wanted to,” Plotkin says. Covington has hired the same number of summer associates — 50 to 55 in D.C. — and new associates — 40 to 50 — during the thriving 1990s and through the market decline, Plotkin says. The firm, unlike many others, did not increase hiring during the good times, he explains. On the other hand, increased hiring in Kirkland & Ellis’ D.C. office has corresponded with increased business. Kirkland is anticipating a need for more associates over the next two to three years, says Eugene Assaf, hiring partner and chair of the recruiting committee in D.C. Litigation right now is very busy, he says. The firm brought in 21 summer associates in 2003, but is expecting 36 from the current second-year students in 2004, Assaf says. Kirkland is also steadily increasing its new associate classes. The D.C. office welcomed 14 new associates in the fall of 2002, but brought in 21 new associates in 2003, Assaf says. The office is hoping for 25 new lawyers this fall, which includes third-years (mostly from the previous year’s summer program) and others who are completing judicial clerkships. At Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky, the 2003 summer associate class remained in the same range — between 20 and 23 people — as it has in the last few years, says partner Laura Vikander, vice chair of the firm’s hiring committee. In the 1990s, Dickstein’s summer associate classes ranged from 20 to 30 people, and peaked at 42 one year. Because of the hiring process, large law firms usually must anticipate their classes of incoming associates two years ahead of time, Vikander says. “We try to be conservative in estimating what we will need,” she adds. Both Dickstein and Kirkland & Ellis recruit at most D.C. campuses, including American, Georgetown, George Washington University, Howard, and Catholic University. Covington visits Georgetown, Howard, and George Washington. Another factor making it tough for this year’s graduating class is the active lateral market in D.C., says Andrea Bear Field, D.C. managing partner for Hunton & Williams. Hiring laterals has caused the firm to take on fewer summer associates and first-year lawyers. “It’s a shift in our approach to filling our needs,” she says. COMPETITION FOR CLERKSHIPS As a result, a growing number of students are turning to judicial clerkships. Matthew Pascocello, an assistant director of AU’s career services, says his law school even created a judicial clerkship coordinator position to “better serve existing demand [and] to educate students as to the many benefits of judicial clerkships.” There was a significantly higher number of applicants than in previous years, but the increase may have been due to a moratorium on clerkships the year before, says Edward Becker, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, “clerkships continue to be very popular,” Becker says. His chamber was inundated with about 450 applications in the last cycle, about 50 more than the year before. Georgetown third-year Alexis Thomas says she turned down a permanent job offer with a small firm in Hamden, Conn., last fall to target judicial clerkships. While she is looking forward to her clerkship with D.C. Superior Court Judge John Mott, Thomas sympathizes with friends who are having trouble deciding what state bar exam to take because they don’t know where they will work after graduation. But, she says, coping with the turbulent times during the job search may have been a benefit in disguise. “I remember when I was a first-year, I didn’t know a third-year who didn’t have a job,” Thomas says. “It might be good that the market was tight because it forced you to realize that there was so much out there.”

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