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The number of lawyer-wanted ads in New Jersey’s legal newspapers is down 4.5 percent this year, while the drop in ads for support staff is steeper, 26 percent. A count of classified ads in the New Jersey Law Journal and New Jersey Lawyer shows that the average number of attorney employment ads between Jan. 1 and April 23 fell to 122.6 a week from 128.4 for the same four-month period last year. The number of postings for support staff dropped to an average of 50.9 per week from 68.8 per week last year. But legal recruiters say the declines reflect only caution, not intense concern, about the legal economy. They say they have not seen a dramatic decline in the number of positions available at law firms. However, jobs for in-house corporate attorneys have diminished considerably because companies are trimming their legal staffs. Law firms seem to be “holding steady” to see which way the economy will turn, says Christine Gurry, managing director of Strategic Legal Resources in Morristown, N.J., which places attorneys and paralegals. “They’re certainly not looking to hire the way they were last year at this time,” Gurry says. For support staff, some firms have turned to using temporary employees rather than committing to a permanent position, Gurry says. Others are requiring tougher qualifications, such as paralegal certification or more experience, as a way to get more for their money, she says. The experience of Hackensack, N.J.’s Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard seems to illustrate the hesitation when it comes to hiring lawyers. “We’re certainly being more cautious … being a little more selective with the hiring,” says hiring partner Steven Klein. The firm is seeking at least five midlevel attorneys in areas such as bankruptcy, tax and health care, Klein says. But it is hiring only the bare minimum to meet needs for attorneys and support staff, he says. “We’re just not being luxurious about it,” Klein says, adding that the firm is forgoing “that extra pair of hands.” If it were not for commitments made nearly a year in advance to hire eight first-year associates this fall, Klein says, the firm may have limited the number to six — just to be on the safe side. Linda Berthold, a manager with Haley Stuart Inc., a recruiting firm in Montvale, N.J., says a couple of clients have become more conservative in hiring. But overall, she says, “I don’t see gloom and doom.” Gauging want ads as a labor force indicator is a technique used by The Conference Board, a business research group that publishes a monthly Help Wanted Index measuring the volume of classified ads in newspapers nationwide. Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein says it looks like New Jersey lawyers have little to fear from the local data. According to his group’s index, the overall volume of help-wanted ads across the country dropped by about 20 percent for all employment in the past three months. But Goldstein says he expects job opportunities to improve in the spring and summer. “How bad can it be when the unemployment rate is just 4.3 percent?” Goldstein posed. “Legal work is unlike the general employment market,” says Stuart Michaels, a lawyer and principal of Topaz Attorney Search in West Orange. “Law is somewhat resilient to the economic cycles.” The number of help-wanted ads in the print media may be affected by the Internet, Michaels adds. Lawyers can search for employment opportunities online from numerous sources, including the law firms’ Web sites that routinely post job openings. While law firms are still hiring in New Jersey, most are looking for attorneys with experience, Michaels says. That’s true of Morristown’s Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti, which is seeking several midlevel associates with three to five years of experience. Its managing partner, Glenn Clark, does not believe that legal work has hit a speed bump. “We’re looking for everything from clerks right up to partners,” Clark says. “To a great extent, legal work is countercyclical to the overall economy,” Clark says. So, while corporations may be feeling a financial pinch, law firms can reap the benefits with increased business in areas like bankruptcy, litigation and real estate spurred by low interest rates, Clark notes. Certain types of practices are diminishing, such as in securities work, Clark says. But where one area is barren, others, such as litigation and labor/employment, remain strong, he says.

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