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One week after his firm laid off associates because of the current downturn, Cooley Godward partner Scott Devereaux was recruiting for next summer’s crop of associates at Georgetown University Law Center. So was he playing to an empty room, his prospects scared off by the layoff? Not at all — all 28 interview slots for that Friday were filled. Devereaux even squeezed in extra interviews during breaks so he could see a few more of the students who were curious about a job. Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cooley Godward cut 86 associates just as this fall’s on-campus recruiting season got under way — the firm had already visited several campuses in the weeks before it cut its ranks last month. Then two weeks later, Fenwick & West followed, laying off 32 associates. Fenwick even offered its incoming first-years six months’ salary if they changed their mind about coming, since there’s not enough work for them anyway. Yet neither firm skipped a beat when it came to visiting campuses and scheduling interviews for next year’s recruits. Both firms, and most other Valley tech firms, are pushing ahead with their recruiting programs. For the most part, firms aren’t cutting back on the number of schools they plan to visit in light of their scaled-back hiring plans and the reduced demand for legal services. Firms are still planning to visit as many schools as last year. San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, however, is trimming both the number of schools it plans to visit and the number of interview days held at the schools. Molly Lane, Brobeck’s recruiting partner, said the firm is trying to slash recruiting costs and is cutting back on the number of summer associates for next year. Last summer, Brobeck played host to 131 summer associates; next year, it will likely host about 100. Also, Lane said the firm is counting on less competition for candidates if all firms cut back on hiring. “We think the yield is going to be much greater from the schools we’re already going to, if the students won’t have so many competing offers,” Lane said. Few businesses would be launching recruiting programs so soon after downsizing. And even fewer would cut employees just weeks or months before the anticipated arrival of a new crop. Yet when it comes to recruiting, law firms aren’t like other businesses. As Fenwick Chairman Gordon Davidson put it, law firms have no choice but to plunge forward. “Our manufacturing lead time is two years — we have to recruit in the law schools two years before we need the lawyers,” Davidson said. “We can only take a long-term view.” One of the first questions that Mark Weber, director of career services at Harvard Law School, had after learning of Cooley’s cuts was whether the firm was still coming on campus to recruit. So far, all of the San Francisco Bay Area firms planning to recruit on campus were still coming, Weber said. And it’s too soon to tell whether Fenwick and Cooley will endure any long-term impact of the layoffs when it comes to luring top students, Weber said. “Arguably, one could say they did the best that they could, that they were honest and direct,” Weber said. Meanwhile, firms that have been shaving off large numbers of associates because of more stringent performance reviews may have bigger questions to answer later on. “It could have an impact down the road,” said Weber. “There’s nothing worse than a frustrated associate.” For Devereaux, his firm’s layoff wasn’t as big an issue as he expected. It didn’t even come up in every interview at Georgetown. “Some of the people I interviewed had pretty direct questions, like why did it come about,” Devereaux said. “But the majority of them didn’t even address it and when it seemed appropriate, I raised it.” No matter who brought it up first, however, all of the candidates knew about the layoff, Devereaux said. John Dwyer, Cooley’s recruiting partner who is coordinating the firm’s efforts, said the firm created a recruiting challenge for itself with the layoffs, and going into the recruiting season, he and his partners are braced for questions. The plan is to meet the questions head on, Dwyer said. “We’ll focus on Cooley and all the things that have led to high associate satisfaction,” Dwyer said, noting associates have ranked the firm the best place to work for the past two years in the Vault Inc. surveys. Cooley has no plans to scale back on its plan to visit 26 schools. The firm is looking to fill about 65 to 70 slots next summer, which is smaller than the class of more than 80 summer associates the firm hosted in recent months. “Based on what our project needs are, we’ll need a slightly smaller class,” said Dwyer. Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich is also recruiting for a smaller summer class, but that was a decision made before the economy tanked, said Richard Yankwich, Gray Cary’s recruiting partner. “It’s the way it worked out — I can’t tell you that we saw the economy coming,” Yankwich said. Instead, with 59 first-year fall associates coming, the firm decided last year it would run smaller programs. The firm still plans to attend the same number of schools — 30 — as in prior years. Yankwich said he and his partners still anticipate fielding layoff questions even though Gray Cary has come out and said there would be no layoff this year. “One of the things we can anticipate are questions like, ‘Even if your firm’s doing well, why should I come to Silicon Valley?’ ” Yankwich said. His canned reply largely echoes what other firms are saying about recruiting. “We’ll say our firm is doing fine and we wouldn’t bet against the Valley as a long-term proposition,” Yankwich said. “Technology’s not going away.”

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