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As law firms sought to bolster and diversify their summer associate programs during the fall recruiting season this year, some of them ventured beyond the list of law schools they usually visit or dug deeper into class ranks to find the help they needed. On-campus interviews wrapped up this month at most law schools, marking an end to this year’s dizzying schedule of back-to-back interviews and receptions. The rapid succession of 20-minute on-campus fall interviews typically results in only about 21% of law students ultimately securing a permanent position with a law firm, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP). But the process requires monumental effort from firms and schools trying to facilitate the right match. With legal business strong and law school applications declining, the competition for qualified students-especially those who are minorities-prompted some fine-tuning of law firms’ recruiting strategies this year. Heller Ehrman pushed the limits of its guidelines that it uses to determine which students to interview, said Margaret Mann, national recruiting chairwoman for the 687-attorney firm. “They’re just guidelines,” she said. “There’s always subjectivity.” Mann vowed that Heller Ehrman did not sacrifice quality in taking a broader approach as to which students it considered. She also recognized that her firm and others were part of the intense competition to woo students seeking associate jobs at large law firms. “There are only so many people who are No. 1 at Harvard or Stanford, and you can’t say that they will be the most successful,” she said. New campus visitors A healthy legal economy is intensifying the recruiting process. Gross revenue among the nation’s most profitable law firms rose to $52 billion last year, a 10.6% increase compared with 2004, according to The American Lawyer, an affiliate of The National Law Journal. At the same time, applications for this year’s academic class at U.S. law schools dropped by 6.3%, according to the Law School Admission Council. Last year, they fell by 5.2%, marking the first decline in applications since 1997. Several law schools reported that this year they had visits from firms that had bypassed their campuses in years past. For example, Northeastern University School of Law in Boston for the first time welcomed Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham; Chicago’s Seyfarth Shaw; New York’s Proskauer Rose; and Boston’s Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, said Randi Friedman, assistant dean and director of career services at Northeastern. As more firms have entered the Boston market or have expanded existing practices, the school has experienced an increased interest from private law firms, Friedman said. “They’re becoming more aggressive in trying to market themselves and in trying to distinguish themselves,” she said. Many Northeastern students seek careers in public interest work, she said, but economic reality often prompts them to consider private practice. “They feel like it’s financial suicide at least not to apply,” she said. The University of Pittsburgh School of Law also had inaugural visits from law firms this fall, said Pamela Day, assistant dean for career services. Dechert was one of those firms. Also for the first time this year, the newly created Buchanan Ingersoll &Rooney hosted a reception. Previously, only one side of the now-mergedPittsburgh firm, 250-attorney Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling, had held suchsocial events. In addition, New York-based Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft collected r�sum�s for the first time and interviewed “a number of” students in its New York offices, she said. At Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, Seyfarth Shaw and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal were two firms visiting for the first time, said Graham Scherr, assistant dean for career services. As with many schools not within the highest ranks, Loyola allows interviewers to prescreen applicants. Most elite schools conduct interviews by lottery. The group of students that firms interview ends up being the luck of the draw. Scherr said that law firms, which in the past interviewed only the top 20% of a class, now may consider the top 25% or even 35%. “Consistent with the uptick, there’s more flexibility on the part of employers,” he said. Drive to diversify Some of what is driving flexibility at law firms is a need to diversify their lawyer rosters. According to NALP, minorities currently account for 5.01% of partners in the nation’s major firms. That figure is a bit better than in 2005, when minorities accounted for 4.63% of partners. However, the total change since 1993, the first year for which NALP has comparable aggregate information, has been only marginal. At that time, minorities accounted for 2.55% of partners. In the face of those lagging numbers, and amid calls from corporate clients to add minority attorneys or risk losing the clients’ business, most big law firms have boosted their efforts to diversify. Duane Morris of Philadelphia, for example, visited some smaller law schools this fall, including North Carolina Central University School of Law and Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, La., said hiring partner Matthew Jones. “We target four or five schools with strong minority enrollments,” he said, adding that the firm has conducted more r�sum� collection from schools it previously passed over. Duane Morris and other firms also have increased their participation in job fairs, especially those attended by large numbers of minorities. The National Black Law Students Association conducts seven job fairs across the country, most in the fall. The Sunbelt Minority Program also hosts job fairs attended by students and graduates of law schools in Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. In addition, many local bar associations conduct minority job fairs, including the Cook County Bar Association in Illinois. Sutherland Asbill & Brennan expanded its fall recruiting by attending more minority job fairs, said Matthew Nichols, a hiring partner in the firm’s Atlanta office. But the firm’s recruiters also attended job fairs targeted to specific practices, such as intellectual property. Several law schools and law student associations host job fairs focused on particular practice areas, which help law firms more easily match their needs with available talent. Whether law firms meet students through job fairs, on-campus recruiting or in-office interviews, they say that in the precious few minutes they have to interact with students the big challenge for firms is to distinguish themselves from the pack, as well as discerning who will fit into the firm. “It’s really hard,” said Jones, with Duane Morris. He recently interviewed 18 University of Virginia School of Law students in about six hours. He had 15 minutes to eat lunch. Still, sometimes making a decision is not too difficult. “I had someone come into an interview with a nose ring,” Jones said. “I liked her, but how could I present her to a senior partner?”

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