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A heightened demand for entry-level lawyers is spurring more law firms to recruit first-year law students to help boost their summer associate ranks. Departing from the usual procedure of hiring law students after their second year of school, an increasing number of shops are trying to woo so-called 1Ls to fill their recruitment shortfalls and to bolster name recognition on campuses. But the strategy has its risks. “The hit-rate can be very low,” said Katharine von Mehren, director of legal recruiting at Boston-based Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge. The likelihood of first-year students eventually becoming full-time employees is slimmer than with second-year students, say schools and firms, since first-year students, after they graduate, are more inclined to join the firm where they worked following their second year of school. Recruiting first-year students also can be a gamble since firms know very little about students’ academic performance at the time they start interviewing. But law firms seem willing to take their chances. At Georgetown University Law Center, first-year student recruiting “has significantly gone up,” said Gihan Fernando, assistant dean for career services. Often, firms try to fill their summer slots with as many second-year students as possible, he said, and if they fail to get the number of qualified students they want, they will dig into the first-year class to fill the gap. BIG GAINS IN BIG FIRMS Overall, recruiting of first-year students for fall 2005 was up 11.6 percent compared with fall 2004, according to the National Association for Law Placement. In 2005, some 288 law offices recruited first-year students, while 258 did so the year before. The largest gain in the number of law offices (within law firms) recruiting first-year students was at firms with more than 500 attorneys. In fall 2005, some 114 offices in those firms recruited first-year students, a 24 percent increase from 2004. According to NALP, the average size of summer associate programs resulting from fall 2005 recruiting at firms of all sizes was 12 law students. First-year students made up 25 percent of those programs. The uptick in the number of offices recruiting first-year students is part of the overall growth in summer associate hiring. Not only was the 12-student average summer associate program size the largest since 2001, but the average number of offers for employment in 2005 to second-year students, 37, was the highest since 2000. The increase in summer associate hiring also is in keeping with recent gains in gross revenues at the nation’s 100 most profitable law firms. In 2004, the latest year the information was available, gross revenues hit a new record at $46 billion, according to The American Lawyer, an affiliate of The National Law Journal. That figure was 10 percent higher than in 2003. First-year recruiting is more common in certain parts of the country than others. Some 61 law firm offices in the West/Rocky Mountain region recruited 1Ls, the most offices in any area, while 51 offices in the Northeast recruited first-year law students, NALP’s figures show. Other regions fall somewhere in between. Whether 1,025-attorney McDermott, Will & Emery recruits first-year students depends upon the specific legal market where each of the firm’s 14 offices is located, said Lydia Kelley, co-national hiring partner. Of the 100 summer associates the firm has recruited for the upcoming summer, she said, about 15 will have just completed their first year of school. She said it recruits first-year students from “key feeder schools” and, if it likes them, will ask that they return to the firm for three weeks during the summer following their second year of school. In the interim, the law firm maintains close contact with the students, Kelley said, sending them invitations to firm events, firm newsletters and press releases. The concerted effort to keep in touch with the students has helped win them over after they graduate, Kelley said. “We’re realizing higher yields than we used to,” she said. Because of the escalation in first-year student recruiting, NALP has received an increased number of phone calls from firms inquiring about the guidelines for first-year law student recruitment, said James Leipold, NALP’s executive director. “One-L legal experience is becoming increasingly important,” he said. NALP establishes timelines for summer associate contact and interviewing that law firms generally follow. Under its standards, law schools should not offer career services before Nov. 1 to full-time, first-year students. In addition, law firms should not interview or make offers to them before Dec. 1. Part of the rise in first-year recruiting comes from law firms looking to add more minority attorneys. Diversity representation among the nation’s largest 250 law firms was just 9.64 percent in 2004, according to the NLJ 250, The National Law Journal’s annual survey of the nation’s largest law firms. And with increased pressure from corporate clients for firms to add more attorneys of color, competition is fierce for minority candidates. Leipold said that he is concerned that aggressive recruiters may limit minority students’ options by persuading them to make long-term commitments to firms after only a few months of law school. Law firms, he said, are becoming more and more creative with recruitment efforts. They may offer first-year law students money for tuition, a promise of jobs after their first and second years of school, and eventual full-time employment, in exchange for a commitment not to participate in on-campus recruiting by other employers. “The theory behind the NALP guidelines was that, in their first year, [law students] should not be worrying about a job,” he said. “What if the student backs out, is there an action for tuition money?” But second-year student Neha Pandya said she liked the flexibility of Duane Morris’ recruitment plan. She was a summer associate at the 515-attorney firm in Philadelphia after her first year at Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law, and she plans to practice there following graduation. But in the meantime, she will work for the International Law Institute in Uganda this summer. Duane Morris is part of the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group, an organization of companies and law firms with the goal of increasing the recruitment and retention of minority lawyers. Pandya, of South Asian descent, said she appreciated the opportunity to gain experience in corporate and bankruptcy law and liked having the chance to work abroad after her second year. She said that Duane Morris did not differentiate between job assignments for first- and second-year law students. “It was challenging to work on projects that I hadn’t studied yet,” she said, adding that with a “willingness to work a little harder” she was able to keep up. SECOND-YEAR STRATEGY Even though Pandya will return to Duane Morris, law firm recruiters and law schools say that most students, once they graduate, do not go back to the firm where they worked after their first year. A primary reason, they say, is that students often choose their second-year firm (the one where they intend to practice full-time) based on where they plan to reside permanently. For example, students from Los Angeles attending school in New York may join a New York firm after their first year but go with a West Coast firm after their second year. The phenomenon prompted Greenberg Traurig to tweak its recruiting strategy. For the first time last summer, it hosted a recruiting reception simultaneously held on the same day at all of its domestic offices where first-year law students could meet with summer associates. The strategy, which it is repeating this year, helped the firm identify where potential full-time associates wanted to end up and facilitated communication between the firm’s offices, said Carol Allen, Greenberg Traurig’s chief recruitment officer. But even when firms lose first-year students to other firms, recruiting just one student may help a firm with marketing. “If they hire a 1L, they’re often hiring a cheerleader,” said Georgetown’s Fernando. Von Mehren, with Edward Angell, said that first-year recruiting is especially useful if the firm is trying to make inroads at a school from which it previously did not recruit. Getting in at the ground floor of a particular class can increase a firm’s chances for landing its graduates later on. “You’re creating a buzz,” she said Leigh Jones is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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