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Even law firms that didn’t lay off associates were doing damage control in the wake of Cooley Godward’s cuts. Morrison & Foerster, Pillsbury Winthrop and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati managers rushed to quell fears their associates would be the next to go. The chairman of each firm recorded voice-mail messages assuring associates the firms were in good health and they would not be following Cooley’s example. Palo Alto, Calif.’s Cooley laid off 86 associates and 50 staff members last week, ending months of speculation over which Silicon Valley firm, if any, would buckle under the weight of employing too many associates idled by the downturn. Keith Wetmore, MoFo’s chairman, said he made the call because “the rumors were that in fact many firms were waiting for layoffs, and they were itching to do one and needed cover. And that is not the case here.” Wetmore said he wanted his troops to know the firm had budgeted conservatively and was meeting its financial targets. “We, for one, have not been lying in wait to see who jumps first,” Wetmore said. At Wilson, the recorded message by Chairman Larry Sonsini was a welcome relief among the rank and file. “There was a lot of gloom on Friday and everybody’s breathing a lot easier,” said one senior associate. Three days after Cooley announced its layoffs, questions still remained over which of the firm’s offices were losing the most associates. Cooley partners have been tight-lipped about the numbers that will be cut from each of the firm’s eight offices. Two associates said they had heard that cuts were particularly deep in the Broomfield, Colo., office. But several associates in that office declined to comment, saying they had been told to refer all calls to Chairman Stephen Neal and Chief Operating Officer Mark Pitchford. Pitchford acknowledged that, like Silicon Valley, the Colorado technology sector has been “hit fairly hard by the downturn.” While he wouldn’t specify what impact that has had on associate ranks he said the firm is pulling out of Denver. “We’d made the decision a couple of weeks ago to consolidate our Colorado presence into Broomfield,” Pitchford said. The decision was “not directly tied to the layoffs announced last week,” he added. “We have more space in the Broomfield office and didn’t perceive a need to be in downtown Denver.” According to Cooley’s Web site, the Broomfield office consists of 45 associates and 12 partners while the Denver office includes nine associates and four partners. Neal, Cooley’s chairman, said the firm is committed to the Rockies outpost and just last year opened up expanded, new digs with room for more than 75 lawyers. “It’s an important, strong office for us.” Neal said the firm decided not to divulge a geographic breakdown of the layoff for competitive reasons. Just days after the layoff, associates at Cooley and other tech firms were getting hit with a barrage of headhunter calls. But Julie Qureshi, a partner at Palo Alto’s Solutus Legal Search, said demand for corporate lawyers is spotty and isn’t coming from the big firms. Instead, smaller firms in other parts of the country are looking for mid-level or senior talent. In Silicon Valley, Qureshi said, associates with licensing experience have a shot at in-house jobs among a few larger tech companies that are still hiring. Most of the positions are junior. Law schools, meanwhile, say the downturn in the economy has not yet affected student recruitment. Lori Nelson, director of career services at University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, said that this year, only three fewer employers recruited on the campus than last year. “I think what will be more telling about the economy on the law school side is the number of offers that are extended this fall to students who worked [at firms] this summer,” Nelson said. But the hiring situation is not as dismal as it was during the recession of 1990 and 1991, Nelson added. At that time “employers coming to campus said they had no thoughts to fill positions but were just there to generate good will,” Nelson said. “I haven’t heard that this year.” All the major national firms recruit from Boalt, including MoFo, Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, Pillsbury and Latham & Watkins. Lisa Dickinson, director of career services at the University of San Francisco School of Law, said she also has not seen fallout from leaner times at firms. “Our students go to the midlevel and smaller market which isn’t being as affected,” Dickinson said. But, she added, “there may be more competition for jobs as attorneys lose jobs at other firms.”

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