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Dallas-The numbers are in, and they look good. Big Texas law firms are employing a larger class of new associates this fall-a hefty 9.4% more-than in the fall of 2004. That amounts to 408 new lawyers, according to the information gathered from 24 of the 25 largest firms in Texas by Texas Lawyer, a sister publication of The National Law Journal. Most of the firms still pay a starting salary of $110,000, while offer rates have improved to second-year law students who clerked at the firms this past summer. More than 31%, or 133, of the new associates graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, according to the information provided by the 24 firms. The University of Houston Law Center and Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas are the next two most popular schools. All nine of the Texas law schools are represented among the new associates. The 408 new associates total 35 more than the 373 hired by the same firms in 2004. It’s a turnaround from 2004, when the new associate class was almost 15% smaller than it had been in 2003. The totals include first-year associates who graduated from law school in 2005 and recent graduates who clerked for a judge before officially joining their firms as associates this year. The survey does not include lateral hires. Increases significant The increase in the number of new associates at the larger firms is significant, said David Montoya, assistant dean for career services at the University of Texas law school. “It’s consistent with the increase in effort we see with firms competing for our top students,” Montoya said. “It’s a sign of the legal market upturn that we’ve expected.” Firms have just completed their on-campus interviews of law students interested in summer associate positions in 2006. Montoya said the number of recruiting employers did not increase this fall, and he doesn’t yet know how many students will receive summer associate offers. “The only thing we have is anecdotal evidence from the firms that they are, indeed, in hiring mode and that transactional work in particular is on the increase,” Montoya said. Recruiting firm Robert Half Legal has seen increased activity this year with entry-level candidates-both from those looking for work and from firms and companies looking for candidates, said Jamy Sullivan, director of the company’s Dallas branch. Most full-time offers are for intellectual property, corporate law, real estate or litigation work, she said. “We have seen, in general, an uptick in employment. We are moving in the right direction.” A survey of 200 attorneys from among the 1,000 largest law firms and corporations in North America, conducted in April for Robert Half Legal, found that firms and in-house corporate departments plan to add staff in the next 12 months, Sullivan said. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed reported that they expect the number of attorneys employed at their firm or business to increase, she said.
NEW ASSOCIATE STATISTICS 2005
Firm First-year associates in 2005* Starting salary in 2005** Starting salary in 2004**
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld 35 $110,000 $110,00
Baker & McKenzie 3 $110,000 $110,000
Baker Botts 45 $110,000 $110,000
Bracewell & Giuliani 19 $110,000 $110,000
Fulbright & Jaworkski 45 $110,000 $110,000
Jenkens & Gilchrist 13 $110,000 $110,000
Jones Day 18 $115,000 $115,000
Locke Liddell & Sapp 25 $110,000 $110,000
Vinson & Elkins 40 $110,000 $110,000
Weil, Gotshal & Manges 12 $125,000 $125,000
* Numbers are new Texas office associates, including those who had a judicial clerkship after law school, but excluding lateral hires. ** Starting salaries are for Texas offices only. In cases where salaries differ in various offices across the state, the starting salaries are averaged. Source: The firms; Texas Lawyer

The economy has gotten stronger, and the demand for legal services has gotten correspondingly stronger, said Bill Swanstrom, partner in charge of hiring for 384-lawyer Locke Liddell & Sapp. The firm, which has offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston, hired 25 new associates this year compared to 17 new associates hired in 2004. He said the firm plans to increase the number of summer associates hired for 2006. “We anticipate the number of offers to 2Ls this fall [for next summer] will be up 25% compared with offers last fall,” he said. Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski hired 45 new associates this year-one of the largest classes among the big Texas firms. In the fall of 2004, the firm hired 27 new associates. “I think our class size is larger this fall because we are growing,” said Gerry Lowry, hiring partner for the 918-lawyer firm. “We’ve been seeing really good growth in litigation, corporate, international, IP and also in energy,” she said. Fulbright plans to hire about 91 summer associates among its four Texas offices in 2006, about the same number hired in 2005, Lowry said. Three of the largest firms increased the annual base salaries paid to new associates. Dallas-based Thompson & Knight announced plans in 2004 to jump its first-year salary, effective Jan. 1, 2005, by $15,000 to $115,000. Dallas-based Winstead Sechrest & Minick also increased associates’ starting salaries to $115,000, a raise of $10,000. Jackson Walker upped the ante to $110,000 annually, a $5,000 increase for new associates at the Dallas-based firm. The majority of the big Texas firms pay base salaries of $110,000. Dallas-based Godwin Gruber declines to disclose its associates’ base salaries. “I think the dollar amount in our compensation package is a factor the clerks consider, but it’s probably not the determinant,” said James Ryan, statewide hiring partner for Jackson Walker. Ryan said the firm increased the base pay to meet the market rate and said he believes potential associates consider a number of issues before deciding which firm to join. “The overall package of the type of work we provide, the atmosphere we provide and the compensation we provide-no one of them is enough to sway any one candidate,” he said.

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