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It is early morning, dark outside, and a law firm partner sits in the core of a skyscraper, the overhead lights burning his eyes. He is underlining the changes in the latest draft of a deal document, a mechanical task that in 1998 would have been done by junior associates. In 2000, though, a firm does not impose on its associates. “He worried that if he asked the associate who was going out to dinner to stay and do this, he’d leave,” reports New York recruiter Renee Berliner Rush, who knows of other high-paid partners doing chores they have not done since — well, since they were associates. The active stock market giveth, and it taketh away. Client companies constantly looking to pull off a deal or three want expert outside advice. But they are also stripping law firms of young deal lawyers who like being close to the business action. The rosters of the Corporate Legal Times‘ Top 200 in-house legal departments jumped an average of 10 attorneys in the past year, to a median of 129 each. The late 1999/early 2000 flood of dot-com positions sucked yet more associates from the firms. “Some partners are telling me they’re putting in 10 to 25 more hours a month,” said Minneapolis recruiter Charles Dahl. “I have firms that can’t inhale enough associates,” said Alisa Levin, of New York’s Greene-Levin-Snyder. “They’ll whisper to us, ‘We’ll compromise our standards.’ They won’t always say it, and they don’t always mean it, but they’re sort of desperate.” Fungible commodity no more! No wonder The National Law Journal‘s annual survey of legal recruiters indicates that the overall volume of legal hiring has swelled even higher than during the past five “hallelujah” years. No wonder partners grit their teeth and approved 40 percent jumps in big-city associate pay. The competition for top candidates is fierce and frenetic. In many parts of the country — ever-restless New York is different — pay raises have slowed the calls from associates looking to escape. Calls for experienced intellectual property lawyers are still being heard. Everyone — firms, corporations, your mama — is ready to eat nails if that will help woo one of those folks. Large corporations have never been so aware that they might own valuable intellectual property. Law firms of all sizes that had not previously thought of doing much IP work have concluded that they need lawyers with trademark, copyright and licensing expertise. Seemingly, all large law firms have decided that they must have a group of designated “electronic commerce” specialists, many of them ringers from the corporate department. When technology-deal associates give notice, partners wheel around to offer more money, fewer working hours and earlier partnership consideration. Big Five accounting firms and consulting firms have also been trolling for lawyers with tech skills. Then there is tech-age spillover: For example, immigration, in selected cities, has attracted more specialists ready to serve companies importing high-skilled labor from overseas. Other areas attracting more practitioners include biotechnology companies and — in scattered places — health law. In the wake of vigorous activity by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, big firms are paying more attention to antitrust. Virtually ignored are insurance defense and environmental practices. Traditional labor practices have contracted or stopped growing, except for continuing strength in some Great Lakes cities. All the increased hiring makes the firms vulnerable in the event of a downturn. Recruiters say that firm managers remember 1991, the year of law firm layoffs. “They make sure that there are other intangible fits with the candidate before they move ahead,” said Michigan recruiter David Galbenski. The NLJ‘s annual review of the job pool always reveals fluctuations among practice areas, shaped by the economy and by legislative trends. In the early 1990s, environmental regulations made environmental lawyers the high-steppers on the block. Attorneys proficient in the minutiae of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act thrived, too. No longer! Intellectual property was also a rising practice area 10 years ago, long preceding the recent Wall Street frenzy. But in that case, the graph-line certainly has not turned south. New York’s Rush said that if a dozen attorneys with science degrees lined up at her door in the morning, she would have them signed up for work in the afternoon. Young lawyers planning for the future would be safe to bone up on trademark and copyright case law, said several recruiters. “Corporations are looking at [IP] and say they don’t see an end in sight,” said Galbenski. The supply of intellectual property practitioners is sufficiently tight that firms are retraining associates. “People are coming from both ends, just like bankruptcy in the ’80s, where some came in from litigation and some from corporate,” said Levin. “Some are coming from an IP background, some are people who are regulatory lawyers adding intellectual property and some are just raising their hand and saying, ‘I volunteer.’ “ Experience with privacy review has been one subspecialty that company legal departments are asking candidates about, said Dee Summers, of Los Angeles. The in-housers don’t have patience to train them, said Summers; they are desperate to have someone step right in. “By the time that they’re looking for an IP attorney, they’re already in trouble,” she said. In the Midwest and the South, legal search professionals have found that some corporations have made compromises. AGE AS HANDICAP Perhaps more than any other consideration outside of money, age has become the focal point of the job carousel. As firms see their fates more inextricably bound to giving business as well as legal advice, they want lawyers with connections to the next generation of business leaders. As they face the necessity of marketing their practices, they are increasingly comfortable with a generation of lawyers who grew up exposed to televised sales pitches and who project an image of being energetic, up-to-date, resilient. And as firms grow more bottom-line, they are retooling around the lawyers who are most efficient. Increasingly, these are the callow lawyers who have the energy and freedom to work on “Internet time.” “Experience is useful,” said Kay Hoppe, a Chicago recruiter who has worked with firm leaders, “but so is the freedom of thought that some of these very, very bright lawyers bring to the party.” It is an expensive commodity, however, as firms have thrown money at young associates during the past six months. The strategy has worked in such cities as Cleveland, Chicago and Nashville, Tenn., where the exodus has been stanched. Increasingly, corporations are poaching from one another as the market gets tougher. “The corporations I work with have only been able to increase their perk packages and maybe stock options,” said legal recruiter Linda Martin, of Cleveland’s Charles V. Snider & Associates Inc. “What those salaries really did is make it very difficult to sell a second-to-eighth-year associate on going in-house,” said Larry Green, of Chicago. He said that even older associates facing no partnership offer are reluctant to move in-house right now. So, for a moment at least, the associates are happy. But no one rests easy nowadays. “I think everyone is exploring opportunities. People want to know what their options are,” said Rush. As in previous years, associates with three to five years’ experience are most in demand. “They have enough experience under their belt that they don’t need to be overseen constantly since none of the partners have time to oversee anything because they’re working so hard themselves,” said Rush. These lawyers-who-barely-know- how-to-be-lawyers are facing previously unheard-of questions. “Firm managers,” said Martin, “ask it straight out: How comfortable are you with developing business? How comfortable are you knowing that this skill will contribute to your overall partnership potential?” Meanwhile, older partners who once thought that they could trust in the payoff of lockstep salaries are being forced onto the job market by profit pressures and their inability to market themselves. And yet, as these positions are freed up, there appears to be resistance to partnership promotion. Rush sees a roadblock forming that she has never seen in her 10 years of placements. “I’ve had five very senior associates in the past two months tell me that they were told they would be made partners, and they asked me to get them out of their firms before they have to make that decision because they feel they will have to work harder as a partner than as an associate,” Rush said. “They feel that once the hook is in, it’s going to be even harder to walk away.” Here is an overview of practice areas, as described by recruiters. � ANTITRUST: Recruiters in New Jersey and other regions say that they see a warming interest in antitrust staffing. “We’ve seen a tremendous amount of activity in the [Federal Trade Commission] 2d request area,” said Michigan’s Galbenski. Corporations are hiring in the area, too. “I think competition causes people to question everyone’s market,” offered Chicago’s Green. � BANKING: Practically the coldest area around, unchanged from the overall slump from previous years. � BANKRUPTCY: The dot-com jitters have made this a watched area, with some firms staffing up. Personal bankruptcies are rising, too. � BIOTECH: Big pushes in New Jersey, Boston, Washington, D.C., and California, and scattered attention in Illinois, New York and Georgia. The bulk of the hiring has been by pharmaceutical companies, but firms are starting to move. One firm asked Dahl, of Minneapolis, for eight specialists, the better with science degrees. He hears some big thinking in his city: “They’re saying, ‘It will be 10 times better than the Internet will ever be.’ ” Who is they? “ Some of the young punks who have dollar signs in the eyes.” Whether these dudes can convince their partners of this is another question. � CORPORATE/SECURITIES: At least steady demand for this, no matter what the area of expertise. “On fire,” said Pam L. Koerner, a Nashville recruiter. Hottest are those lawyers who have experience with start-up, technology and communications companies. In New York, though, high-yield work has slowed. � E-COMMERCE: Hot all over. This specialty may end up branching in a variety of directions. For instance, advertising is one subspecialty that has emerged in Houston, according to Rob Rowland, of Associated Counsel. � HEALTH: Health information is blooming all around us. There is a mixed view, however, of whether this is the right specialty for lawyers to invest in right now. The practice area is expanding in Texas, Georgia, New Jersey/New York and California. Reluctance prevails in health-intensive areas such as Tennessee and Florida. � IMMIGRATION: The high-tech swell has helped raise immigration’s profile. “The largest firms are suddenly starting to bring on lateral immigration lawyers,” said Brion Bickerton, of Bickerton & Gordon in Boston. � IN-HOUSE: Very much in flux. An extremely busy past year, an uncertain future. “The lure had always been better hours, better lifestyle, but that’s becoming less true,” said Rush, of New York. “The gap is slowly narrowing.” Plus, law firm pay is rising. � IP DEFENSE: Omnipresent. Indeed, it has the aura of divinity in the placement realm. “Hot. Of course,” said Pittsburgh recruiter Susan Fletcher. Watch to see if some firms hand basic trademark work to paralegals rather than attorneys. � INSURANCE: Defense in the dumps, thanks to declining cases and in-house work, though not in Chicago. There, Larry Green has had calls from a few firms, and he said, “It’s the only litigation thing we see coming through at all.” � LITIGATION: Nervous nellies, the litigators are. “Across the board, I think it’s tougher for litigators to find good lateral opportunities,” said Bickerton, echoed by recruiters in Chicago and New York. Although sagging in the North, the longing for litigators is more energetic in the South and West. � TAX: An area that is pretty steady all around. New York City firms are particularly eager for experienced tax lawyers aged 38 to 45, said Rush.

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