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Chart: Summer Classes Up at Many California Firms Silicon Valley partners are having a good summer, and not just because of the nice weather. This year’s summer associate programs, which got under way at most firms in May, reflect a sense of optimism about the Valley’s economic prospects by law firms and students alike. Students are returning to Valley firms — whose tech-focused practices lost some cachet during the dot-com decline — and the firms are eagerly beefing up their summer associate ranks. The increase in summer associates is a welcome signal of returning economic health to corporate law firms, particularly in the hard-hit Valley where many firms downsized and cut summer ranks after the dot-com bust. At the firm formerly known as Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, summer associate ranks plummeted 72 percent from 2001 to 2004, from 61 interns to 17. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s summer class, which peaked at 79 interns in 2000, fell to 32 interns in 2003. This year, summer associate head counts are on the rise again at many Valley firms — although not at the dizzying levels reached at the height of the dot-com era. Palo Alto’s Wilson Sonsini is hosting 68 summer associates this year, a healthy 58 percent increase from last year’s 43 summer associates, and more than double the number of students it welcomed in the summer of 2003. It’s a sign that things are back to normal, said Sara Harrington, one of the co-chairs of summer recruiting at Wilson Sonsini. “We were definitely looking for a bigger [summer] class,” she said. “Business has picked up, and we are anticipating needs going forward.” Cooley Godward is increasing its summer associate head count to 49 students this year, after trimming its summer program down to 38 students in 2004. The demand for summer associates in the Valley reflects a trend unfolding throughout the state. Nearly all of the major California firms have boosted the size of their summer programs this year. Latham & Watkins is hosting 217 summer associates, its largest class ever, up 32 percent from 164 students in 2004. Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker’s 109-student summer class is also the firm’s largest to date. Firm managers attribute the surge in demand for summer interns to an improving economy and firms’ confidence that the level of legal work will hold steady through the fall of 2006, when this year’s class of summer associates will begin working as full-time attorneys. “People generally think the economy is going to continue to grow,” said legal consultant Peter Zeughauser. “And that bodes well for law firms.” Consolidation among firms, such as Pillsbury Winthrop’s March merger with Washington, D.C.’s Shaw Pittman, is also a factor contributing to some of the larger summer classes. Pillsbury’s summer class this year has 81 students, compared with the firm’s 51 summer associates in 2004. The typical compensation for summer help remains $2,400 a week, a level of pay set during the salary wars of 2000 by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Of course, larger summer programs call for significantly more firm resources. Latham & Watkins dispatched 239 attorneys to 51 law schools this year, where they conducted more than 4,000 interviews. “Given the size of the summer class, everybody is redoubling their commitment and energy,” said Juli Wilson Marshall, the chair of Latham’s recruiting committee. While Latham is seeding its Bay Area offices with roughly the same number of summer associates as last year, other firms appear to be regarding the region as a platform for growth. Gibson, Dunn is bringing 22 summer associates to its San Francisco and Palo Alto offices this year, compared with 2004′s relatively skimpy class of nine students between the two offices. And O’Melveny & Myers’ 4-year-old Menlo Park office has seven summer associates this year, compared with three interns in the summer of 2004. Any apprehension students had about working in post-dot-com Silicon Valley is a thing of the past, say many attorneys. “We definitely sensed more people signing up to meet with us,” said Wilson Sonsini’s Harrington about the firm’s on-campus experience this year. High-profile clients like Google Inc., whose 2004 initial public offering was handled by Wilson Sonsini, may have boosted the firm’s image among aspiring corporate lawyers. Last year, in fact, Wilson Sonsini’s summer associates visited Google and met the company’s in-house legal team, many of whom are Wilson alumni. “What makes Wilson special is the nature of the work we do and our clients, and we’re trying to emphasize that in our program,” Harrington said. Heller Ehrman’s Bay Area offices welcomed 45 summer associates this year compared with 35 in 2004. That’s not the only difference. “Two or three years ago I remember being shocked that by the time the students actually arrived, only one kid wanted to do deals. Everybody else wanted to be a litigator,” said Michael Charlson, Heller Ehrman’s firmwide recruiting chair. Not so this year. At least half of this summer’s Bay Area interns have expressed an interest in doing transactional work, reports Charlson. Susan Robinson, the associate dean of career services at Stanford Law School, said she’s noticed a slight uptick in students interested in doing corporate work this year. While she said Stanford student interest in the Bay Area has remained steady through up and down markets, she noted that a firm’s stability is something today’s students consider when choosing a summer job. “In the ’90s I don’t think students thought at all about a firm’s viability, particularly if it was a large firm,” Robinson said. “Now I think it’s one of the issues that they all have when they’re looking at a firm.” That’s at least in part the result of high-profile flameouts, like Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s 2003 demise, which bruised the overall reputation of Bay Area tech firms. But today, many of the region’s tech specialists are part of larger, more established organizations. Gray Cary merged with Piper Rudnick in 2004 and is now part of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, a 2,800-attorney behemoth with offices in 18 countries. And Venture Law Group was acquired by Heller Ehrman in 2003. For a law student interested in the technology industry, going to Silicon Valley doesn’t seem as risky a proposition as it might have been three years ago. Training is increasingly becoming an important part of summer associate programs, with many firms putting on workshops and mock trials, letting interns shadow a partner for a day and giving students a chance to get involved in real life matters. At Latham for instance, summer associates pick assignments from the same central repository that junior associates draw their work from. Paul, Hastings offers certain summer associates the opportunity to rotate between U.S. and international offices, something four of the firm’s summer associates will do this year. Summer programs also are playing an increasingly important role in firms’ efforts to diversify their ranks. Many clients are pressuring firms not only to diversify, but to advance more minorities to high-level roles in the firm. “We are being asked by many of our clients, including GE and American Airlines, not just the [minority] numbers, but what is their utilization on their bills,” said Paul, Hastings’ firmwide chair of recruiting Mary Dollarhide, who notes that 25 percent of the firm’s 2005 summer class belongs to a racial, ethnic or sexual orientation minority group. Not all firms offered diversity information about their summer associate ranks. But at Morrison & Foerster, which has a long-running commitment to diversity, this year’s summer class is particularly varied, with 46 percent of its interns describing themselves as either African-American, Latino or Asian. In the San Francisco office, 10 of the summer interns are white, five are African-American, five are Latino and nine are Asian. Diversity is important to MoFo, said Susan Mac Cormac, co-chair of the firm’s attorney personnel committee. “And I think on diversity, success breeds success. The fact that we have so many talented attorneys of color here at the firm, it makes it much easier to recruit more.” Alexei Oreskovic is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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