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Jennifer Nejad, a second-year at University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, worried that her status as a transfer student might affect her desirability in the eyes of summer employers. But as it turned out, she found the fall recruiting season was a cinch. After 11 initial interviews led to about eight callbacks, Nejad followed up with four firms and received three offers. She’ll be spending this summer at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, earning $3,077 per week. She says her friends reported similar stories. “Almost everyone I talked to was pleased with how things worked out,” said Nejad, a transplant from Hastings College of the Law. Her experience reflects the conclusion of another robust summer hiring season, which apparently wasn’t affected much by the darkening economic outlook, the turmoil in credit markets nor a slowdown in M&A activity. Seven Am Law 100 and 200 firms interviewed for this story report that larger economic forces played little role in their summer-program plans. The majority said their summer programs will be slightly bigger than last year.
The Summer ForecastCompare the size of the 2007 and ’08 summer classes of more than half a dozen AmLaw 100 and 200 firms (.pdf).

Morrison & Foerster Chairman Keith Wetmore says that firms, particularly those that sport a well-diversified practice, are much better equipped to handle isolated downturns than they were two decades ago. “Generally we haven’t seen a recession that hit diversified firms significantly since the early 1990s,” he said. The dot-com bubble burst hit technology-oriented firms hard in the early part of the decade, he said, and some New York securities firms are being buffeted by the credit storm. But for many other firms, 2007 was a good year and firm leaders say they expect 2008 to bring more of the same. Summer programs are a valuable recruiting tool that can influence students’ perception of a firm, said Peter Ocko, a recruiter with Major, Lindsey & Africa in Los Angeles. “If anybody publicly slashes its summer associate group, it’s like putting up a stop sign, ‘Not welcome,’” Ocko said. While general hiring hasn’t slowed down, he added, even big firms that are doing well are hiring laterals in a more targeted fashion, not creating positions for every great candidate that crosses their threshold. Both MoFo and Orrick wrapped up 2007 with 16 percent increases in gross revenues. Both firms are also reporting bigger summer programs. At Orrick, last year’s summer class totaled 93. This year, the firm has already hired 97 second-years, and still expects to add 10 to 15 more first-years, said West Coast hiring partner James Kramer. “The economic factors played a role in the sense that we paused and took a hard look at where we expect the firm to be in two years,” Kramer said. “And we’re comfortable with where the firm is going, and because of what we learned we decided to hire more people.” “We want to make an offer to every single summer associate that joins us,” he added. MoFo bumped its number of summers to 134, up from last year’s 108. And the increase is spread over both coasts. The firm’s San Francisco office is bringing 42 students aboard, up from 24 last year, while the New York office is hiring 27, up from last year’s 14. Reed Smith’s hiring co-chair, Morgan Tovey, said he expected tougher competition for students this year, but his firm ended up increasing its summer class slightly, from 77 total last year to 69 so far this year, with 12 more slots budgeted for first-years. First-year hiring will be completed by March. “Back in the fall we expected that the competition would be stiffer,” Tovey said. “We extended fewer offers and got a better yield.” By contrast, Heller Ehrman was the only one in a random sampling of seven firms to significantly slash its summer program. Only 50 summers will work at Heller this year, down nearly 50 percent from last year’s 97. But the firm is also boosting summer pay from $2,800 to $3,100 in most offices across the country. In early Am Law 100 financial results published this month, Heller reported gross revenues of $491 million, down more than 3 percent from the previous year. But David Sanders, Heller’s chief human resources officer, said the decrease in summer hires is the result of rebalancing the proportion of first-year associates as opposed to judicial clerks and junior lateral hires. A few years ago the firm had a large proportion of mid-level associates due to lateral hiring. The firm doubled the size of its summer program to fill out the early classes, Sanders said. Now, he said, “We can go back to the norm that we have used in the past.”

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