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It’s good to be Stephanie Holmes. The second-year law student at Catholic University, Columbus School of Law applied to 24 firms at the start of her summer job search. She got 23 callbacks. She eventually received an offer from Jones Day, her top pick. “It was overwhelming,” Holmes says. For firms in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, growth appears to be roaring, a contrast to the leaner days of years past. And along with that, the market for summer associates is sizzling. This year, many large firms are boosting the size of their summer classes as a result. That means that Stephanie Holmes’ story isn’t an uncommon one. “Firms are very aware that the competition is getting stronger. I think it’s very clearly the market,” says Gihan Fernando, assistant dean for career services at Georgetown University Law Center. “Everybody is struggling to fill the increased summer-associate class.” Because large firms generally hire their summer associates post-graduation, the upswing signals optimism for the years ahead, an extension of what Fernando describes as a “robust legal economy.” According to several law schools and firms in the District, summer-associate classes have increased locally. For instance, Latham & Watkins increased its D.C. class size by 35 percent, from 37 to 50. “The firm has experienced lot of growth in the last few years, and this office in particular has experienced a lot of growth,” says Latham partner and local recruiting committee chairman Raymond Grochowski. He says Latham has expanded its large litigation, transactional, and regulatory practice groups, among other areas, and has also seen a rise in the smaller practice areas. Hogan & Hartson as well increased its D.C. office’s summer-associate class to 84 students, a rise of 29 percent. “Business is good,” says Claudette Christian, partner and co-chairwoman of the recruiting committee at Hogan. “We’ve seen a significant uptick across all our practice groups.” Venable’s firmwide class grew by 54 percent to fill the demand in the newly minted New York and Los Angeles offices, and the D.C. office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom bumped up its class to 35 from 20 last year. SELLER’S MARKET Law schools in the D.C. area have also felt the buzz. Though the schools have not yet compiled the exact numbers for this year, most anticipate a 7 percent to 12 percent upswing in second-year-student placement. “This definitely seems like a very strong year,” says Sheila Driscoll, the assistant director of career development at George Washington University School of Law. But it’s not just second-years who are having all the fun. Firms picked up far more first-year law students this year than in previous years. Patton Boggs added more first-years to its incoming class because, as Philip Feigen, the firm’s hiring partner, says, “it’s a great marketing tool.” And for third-years who missed out on a summer associate program in 2006, the future is looking exceptionally bright. D.C. law schools reported a significant rise in the market for third-years, a group that in previous years struggled to find positions. “It feels similar to how it felt in the late ’90s,” says Georgetown’s Fernando. Kara Ward, a second-year from George Washington, describes last fall as a “whirlwind.” The interviewing process took her to three cities, where she spoke with more than 100 attorneys, and she received an astounding 18 offers. She eventually decided on Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Boston because it was a “big firm with a small-firm feel.” “Most of the stress of the process was stress I put on myself to be sure that I found the firm that was the best fit for me and the work I wanted to do. In a lot of ways, I had to decide what kind of attorney I wanted to be during the process,” says Ward, who is interested in corporate litigation. Catholic’s Holmes, who ended up with 23 interviews, says it was “kind of an intimidating prospect in the beginning.” But she says the process itself, though hectic, wasn’t as tough as she was expecting. “[The interviews were] more like a conversation, I guess, as opposed to a stiff atmosphere.” Stacey Pratt from George Mason University School of Law raked in 10 offers. She applied to 40 firms, had 40 initial interviews and 20 second interviews, and in the end wound up in Hogan & Hartson’s corporate department. “I probably overreached,” Pratt says, “and if I did it again I wouldn’t put my r�sum� in for that many on-campus interviews.” ROLLING THE DICE Firms always take a gamble when deciding how many students to have in their summer classes — because summer associates are almost always hired on as first-years. And a summer class that goes without widespread offers results in a torrent of bad publicity for the firm. Driscoll, who just started working at George Washington in 2002, says that during that rough year “we were having crisis meetings about students who got offers from firms and now those firms [didn't] even exist.” Of course, when business bounced back, firms suddenly found themselves with thinner classes of associates in their early years. Staffing cases became a challenge. “Well, it’s part science, part art,” says Andre Owens, partner and co-chairman of the recruiting committee in the D.C. office of WilmerHale, about gauging the number of summer associates needed. “You have to be reasonably confident that you’re right, both in terms of what the marketplace will be but also in how busy you will be,” adds Thomas Hill, co-national director of lawyer recruiting and also the chairman of the D.C. recruiting effort at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. And this year, with firms basking in the glow of record revenues, confidence is on the rise. Christian of Hogan & Hartson says her firm looks at past trends and makes conservative estimates when determining the number of summer associates. “We have a pretty good sense of where our clients are going over a two-year period,” says Christian. “The firm is busier, certainly, and projecting several years in the future, we expect that this will continue.” Some firms, however, aren’t participating in the rush to snag more summer associates. Wiley Rein, which reported high profits this year, only added around four more summer associates, and WilmerHale, another top firm in terms of revenue, actually lowered the number of summer associates in the D.C. office from 71 to 47. “We intentionally decided to have a smaller class this year,” says Owens, also adding that with fewer summer associates, students get better work opportunities. Even with some firms not playing the game, competition for top talent is way up. And firms have another problem. The demand may be on the rise, but the number of students picking up diplomas has remained constant. In fact, though law schools keep churning out the same number of would-be attorneys, the number of law-school applicants declined last year by about 7 percent, according to the Law School Admission Council. “It is known by all of us in this part of the business,” says Latham’s Grochowski. “Law firms are growing, and law schools are not growing nearly as fast.” The rise in demand, combined with a smaller pool of choices, sometimes leads firms to pursue humorous and, one might say, desperate tactics in wooing summer associates. George Washington’s Ward says she was interviewing with a firm in Boston last fall and accidentally dropped a competing firm’s business card in front of a recruiter. The recruiter advised her not to go there because it was ” �the kind of firm that tucks their undershirts into their underpants. You know, those kind of guys.’ “ She ended up not going to that recruiter’s firm, but she says, “I’m still looking for the attorneys who tuck their undershirts into their underpants.”
Attila Berry can be contacted at [email protected].

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