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Amid an improved economy and an apparent upturn in lateral hiring, some law firms are trying to shield their associates from the wiles of recruiters offering richer rewards. Some firms are limiting the contact information about associates provided on their Web sites. Others have deleted biographical and practice-area details as well. Still others are said to be scaling back information in law firm directories. In sharp contrast to the technology bust when law firms wanted to trim their ranks, many of today’s firms are running interference in attempts to keep their associates from straying. “We’re really not anxious for people to start poaching our associates. We don’t want to facilitate that,” said Richard Raysman, managing partner of the New York office of Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner. The firm’s Web site provides neither phone numbers for associates nor biographical information, and it does not identify the practice areas in which associates work. Raysman acknowledged that recruiters can get to associates if they are determined to do so, but the firm wants to make it a little more difficult for them. Similarly, Baker & McKenzie’s Web site does not provide a link to biographical details and other contact information about associates, although users can connect to partners’ names for such information. The Web site of Schulte Roth & Zabel, in New York, also does not give out phone numbers for its associates, nor does Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy’s Web site. In addition, Latham & Watkins’ Web site provides direct numbers for partners but only general numbers for associates. Raysman acknowledged that associates intent on leaving will do so no matter how much firms guard against it. “If somebody is unhappy, they’ll leave,” he said. Jonathan Lindsey, managing partner at the recruiter Major, Hagen & Africa, sees an increasing restriction regarding associate information on firms’ Web sites and in the details they give law firm directories. Such an approach is “not a particularly useful exercise,” he said. “Unless they put all their associates in the witness protection program, there’s no sensible way to prevent recruiters from finding out who’s practicing in a particular area,” Lindsey said. Trying to prevent recruiters’ access to associates can be short-sighted, he said, since those attorneys may move in-house to companies that could become clients. Ironically, even if law firms are guarding their associates against competing firms more closely as the economy improves, fewer of them are making partner, said Dan DiPietro, head of client relations for the law firm division at Citigroup Private Bank. According to a confidential survey conducted by Citigroup, the number of equity partners at law firms increased by just 2.5 percent in 2004, a decrease from 3 percent in 2002 and from 4.5 percent in 2000. DiPietro added that, “anecdotally,” attrition is increasing. Instead of clamping down on associate information, firms should focus on making their talented associates eager to stay put, said Joel Henning, vice president and general counsel of Hildebrandt International, a consultancy. “What law firms should be doing is improving working conditions so the best and brightest won’t themselves be contacting recruiters,” he said. Leigh Jones is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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