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In the competition for six-figure-salary jobs at big New York law firms, students at New York’s regional law schools have always known they needed to shine a little brighter than their counterparts at Ivy League and other big-name law schools. One second-year student at Hofstra University School of Law in Hempstead, N.Y., thought he shone plenty bright, ranking in the top 15 percent of his class and holding a coveted position on Hofstra’s law review. So though he was elated when he received an offer in October to become a summer associate in Tampa, Fla.-based Holland & Knight’s New York office, he was not terribly surprised. But three weeks later, surprise was the least of his feelings. He received a call from Nancy L. Hengen, Holland & Knight’s New York hiring partner, informing him that his offer was being rescinded. “I felt like my heart was being pulled out,” recalled the student, who asked that his name not be used. Just a year ago, a rescinded offer to a law student would have been unthinkable. But in a season of associate layoffs and cancelled bonuses, law students across the metropolitan area are facing new, harsher realities. Though final hiring figures will not be available until at least the end of the year, Paula Patton, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement, which tracks legal hiring trends, said that preliminary data indicates a sharp decline in law firm offers this year, including summer associate offers, first-year associate offers and lateral hiring. In the New York area, perhaps nowhere is this more sharply felt than at schools like Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Fordham University School of Law, St. John’s University, New York Law School and Hofstra. In the hiring binges of recent years, major firms hired from these schools, generally ranked in the second or third tier, in relatively large numbers. Now, while students at top-tier schools like Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law grumble about not landing positions at their first-choice firms, students at other area schools wonder if they will land any jobs at all. At Cardozo, third-year student Matthew Bower is in the top fifth of his class and the editor-in-chief of the Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal. Nonetheless, he is finding interviews at firms, much less offers, hard to come by. “The last two editors of this journal are now at Holland & Knight and Fried, Frank [, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson],” he said. “They had almost exactly the same credentials.” It is no secret that graduates of elite schools have always had a much-envied advantage in the annual law firm recruiting gambit, both for summer associate and permanent positions. “Everyone here walks around like they wish they went to Columbia,” said one third-year student at Fordham. Hard work was supposed to make the difference. And, to be sure, the top students at Cardozo and other regional schools are still receiving offers from major firms. Editors at the Cardozo Law Review have received offers from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, among others. But students say the bar seems much higher now, and there is a growing sense that major firms are looking away from schools like Cardozo in general now that their hiring needs have retracted. “We’re definitely marginalized,” Bower said. Patton agreed that schools considered less elite may find firms less receptive to their graduates in lean times. “The perception that graduates of certain law schools provide a better face to clients is still very much with us,” she said. OTHER OFFERS RESCINDED Jacquelyn Burt, the dean of Cardozo’s Center for Professional Development, said firm hiring had slowed at her campus. Though firms showed up for on-campus recruiting in record numbers this year, she noted, “Firms were very candid about the fact that they would be making fewer offers than in years past.” Three Cardozo students had summer associate offers rescinded by Holland & Knight, Burt acknowledged. William J. Honan III, the managing partner of Holland & Knight’s New York office, explained that his firm rescinded eight summer associate offers because of an unexpectedly high acceptance rate among students, whom he suspected were receiving fewer offers from competing firms. Holland & Knight, which has 1,250 lawyers worldwide and 123 in New York, was aiming for about 10 New York summer associates, but was on track to yield twice that number. Because the firm, like most other major firms, generally makes full-time offers to all summer associates, taking on 20 summer associates could lead to an incoming class of 20 first-year associates in the fall of 2003. Regardless of the course of the economy, Honan said, the firm does not need or want that many, and therefore had to make cuts now or face making economic layoffs later. Though the Hofstra second-year said he was under the impression the class had been filled when his offer was rescinded, Holland & Knight’s New York class is, in fact, not yet full, and the firm still has 10 outstanding offers. With eight acceptances so far, the firm expects to have a New York summer associate class of between 10 and 12 students. The decision on which students’ offers to rescind was subjective, Honan said. In its determinations, the firm considered a number of factors, including grades and interview impressions. However, Honan acknowledged that law school was a factor, and that the firm favored those schools at which it has traditionally recruited. He declined to name those schools. SUMMER ENDS, NO OFFER David BenHaim, a Cardozo Law Review member, said he believes his fate was similarly determined when he failed to receive a permanent offer after working as a summer associate at Morgan Lewis & Bockius in New York. Unlike second-years whose summer associate offers were rescinded, third-year students who do not receive offers after completing a summer associate program face the difficulty of seeking a permanent offer in a market where firms are increasingly relying solely on summer programs to fill their permanent hiring needs. A law review editor in the top 15 percent of his class, BenHaim turned down a number of other offers to work at Morgan Lewis. He received fine reviews for his work over the summer, he said, but the buzz among associates was that the firm had too many summer associates, and many would not be receiving permanent offers. At the end of the summer, the firm made offers to 42 out of 51 summer associates. None of the three from Cardozo received an offer, and the firm did not attend on-campus recruiting there this year. Partners at Morgan Lewis declined to comment on its summer associate program. The firm, which has 1,100 lawyers worldwide and about 280 in New York, last month laid off 50 associates in various offices, citing the slowdown in transactional work at the firm. BenHaim said the firm has been supportive and is helping him to find a position elsewhere. “They are good people,” he said. But he also said he believes the firm cut him because he went to Cardozo. “I was shocked not to get an offer,” he said. “I really think if I had gone to Columbia or NYU, I would have gotten an offer.” Burt said virtually all Cardozo students will find jobs, though it may take longer than expected, and fewer of those jobs will be at large firms. “If students are broad-minded in their search,” she said, “I am confident they will find great jobs.” For his part, Bower is thinking about heading north. He is pondering an offer from a firm in Toronto, though working as a lawyer in Canada generally pays much less and requires a year of “articling,” in which newly minted lawyers serve as low-paid apprentices. Or he could shell out some more tuition. “I’m thinking about doing an L.L.M.,” he said. “Maybe I’ll stay in school and just hope things turn around in a year.”

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