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After steadily shrinking for the past few years, summer associate classes at many large New York law firm offices are back at levels last seen during the late ’90s boom. At 15 of the 25 law firms surveyed by the Law Journal , the 2004 summer classes are larger than they were in 2003. At six of those firms, the summer class is more than 50 percent larger. The increase is roughly the reverse of the trend last year, when 15 of 25 firms reduced the size of their summer associate classes, some by more than half. As transactional practices heat up again after a three-year slump, many firms are clearly projecting greater staffing needs down the road. But the large swings also owe something to the unpredictable nature of firms’ ability to get law students to commit. Summer associates, who are mostly second-year law students, generally receive offers to join their firms full-time after their graduation from law school. Though many firms now also resort to the hiring of lateral associates, summer programs remain large firms’ primary source of new associates. Who’s Up to What? Simpson Thacher & Bartlett saw the biggest increase this year with a summer class of 102, up 73 percent from last year’s 59. Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton and White & Case both increased their 2004 classes by 57 percent. Latham & Watkins and Sullivan & Cromwell both had summer classes 54 percent larger than the year before. Shearman & Sterling will boast the biggest summer class this year, with 103 summer associates, up 51 percent from the year before. T. Robert Zochowski, the firm’s partner in charge of recruiting, said the increase in the size of the class reflected an uptick in the firm’s corporate practices in particular. “We expect to resume growth and find this is the right size for the class to be,” said Mr. Zochowski. Shearman had between 60 and 70 summer associates in each of the last three years. Mr. Zochowski said those class sizes had filled the firm’s needs well at the time, though he said last year’s class might have benefited from a few more bodies. “Could I have used another five people? Probably,” he said. The Role That the ‘Yield’ Plays The exact size of a summer associate class is hard to predict. Hiring partners are making offers to students who are often being courted by many other firms. Like college admissions officers, they are at the mercy of their “yield,” the ratio of students who accept offers to those who receive them. Because an overstaffed summer associate program will lead to an overstaffed first-year associate class, a strong yield is not always a blessing. In recent years, firms have cited higher-than-expected yields in explaining why all summer associates would not be receiving full-time offers or even rescinding offers to some candidates. But a low yield will mean a scramble to fill a class, a return to campus to interview third-years, or a smaller crop of junior associates to tackle matters. Sheldon Alster, the partner heading the hiring committee at Cleary Gottlieb, said a disappointing yield was a factor in the smaller size of his firm’s summer program in 2003. That 60-lawyer group fell short of the range the firm usually tries to hit, he said, which is between 70 and 90 summer associates. The prospect of making up for last year’s shortfall was one reason Mr. Alster said he was happy that the firm had seen a higher-than-expected yield this year with its class of 94 summer associates. He said he had asked lawyers conducting interviews to express more enthusiasm about the firm, but added that he was unsure why it attracted more acceptances this year than last. “I’d love to know why so we could do it again,” he said. The Uptick Was Not Everywhere Not all firms boosted their summer classes in 2004. Dewey Ballantine almost halved its summer associate program to 33 students from last year’s 63. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom will bring aboard 71 summer associates this year, down 38 percent (from 111) in 2003. Chadbourne & Parke, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and Debevoise & Plimpton also reduced the size of their summer classes. For some firms, smaller summer classes represent the continuation of a trend. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius also slashed its New York summer program to 13 students from 21 the year before. The firm, which laid off associates in 2001, had already slashed its program massively in 2002, reducing it by 61 percent to 20 students from 51 the year before. On the other hand, Morgan Lewis is paying the highest salaries to summer associates , $27,000 for a 10-and-a-half week stint, or $2,571 a week. Shearman & Sterling and Cravath, Swaine & Moore are also both paying summers $2,500 or more per week. Most other firms will be paying around $2,400, though.

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