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Law firms may shudder at the amount they’re spending on entry-level legal help these days. But few have gone into the fall recruiting season with plans of curtailing their first-year associate hiring. Indeed, the vast majority of Connecticut hiring partners interviewed last week said they expect their firms to bring on as many — if not more — new J.D.s next fall as they have this year, despite the surge in wages for raw recruits. “The fact that first-year associate salaries are higher doesn’t change the fact that we need more people” to keep up with workload demands, maintained Thomas S. Marrion, of Tyler Cooper & Alcorn’s Hartford, Conn., office. The New Haven, Conn.-based firm added four new associates this fall at $72,000 a year — $7,000 more than the amount it offered to new recruits the previous year. Despite the increasing costs, the firm projects it will hire between four and six entry-level lawyers in 2001, according to Marrion. Hartford-based Day, Berry & Howard, Connecticut’s largest firm, has yet to set its hiring goals for the coming year. But Steven M. Greenspan, chairman of the hiring committee, said it’s unlikely that next year’s recruiting class will be any smaller than this year’s. Eighteen new lawyers joined the firm’s three offices this fall. Under the firm’s beefed-up compensation package, first-years in Day Berry’s Hartford office earn an annual base salary of $74,000, but with bonuses, have the potential of taking home up to a $100,000 a year, if they bill 2,200 hours a year or more. “The [salary] increases we have made … will not have any impact on our hiring decisions,” Greenspan insisted. STRIKING A BALANCE “Costs are always a factor,” conceded Kurt W. Hansson, of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker’s 52-lawyer Stamford, Conn., office. Still, the Los Angeles-based firm, which welcomed aboard three first-year associates in Stamford this fall, including one who started part-time in January, has no plans of cutting back on entry-level recruiting, Hansson noted. “The demand for our services … remains extremely high,” he added. But “obviously, if the economics change, the cost factor could become an issue.” Paul Hastings’ current annual base wage for its raw recruits in Stamford is $115,000. The only firm of the eight polled for this story that projects it will hire fewer new lawyers in 2001 than it did this year is Shipman & Goodwin. And even then, it would only be a slight change, said hiring partner Stephen K. Gellman. The Hartford-based outfit currently expects to bring on 11 first-year associates next year — three less than this year’s class, he said. That dip, Gellman added, does not reflect increases in Shipman’s salary structure, but rather the apparent desire among certain partners at the firm to fill a small number of open slots with seasoned lateral hires instead of inexperienced recruits. Hartford’s Murtha Cullina, on the other hand, made offers to all eight of its summer associates this year, according to hiring partner Hugh F. Murray. If all accept the invitation to join the firm, next fall’s recruiting class would be double the size of this year’s, he said. Murray credited the number of offers to the quality of the candidates and Murtha’s current growth mode. “You always have to be cautious,” he warned. But Murtha has a diversified enough practice that there would still be work for everybody, even if the economy were to take a dive over the next year, Murray maintained. The firm, he added, also isn’t staffing up to a level that would require it to experience an inordinately high jump in revenue. The same goes for Paul Hastings’ Stamford office, said Hansson. “If you don’t bring the people in the door, then you won’t get the work done. … [But] we don’t want to over-hire just to meet the demands of today,” he cautioned. To strike a balance, the office, on occasion, has hired contract attorneys on a temporary basis to help handle short-term spikes in business and unusually large pieces of litigation, Hansson acknowledged. But usually when such needs arise, it calls on the staffing resources of Paul Hastings’ other offices, he said. “That’s one of the strengths we have in being a national firm.”

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