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As part of the first batch of summer associates at Fenwick & West’s Palo Alto, Calif., office this year, Catherine Bernard was welcomed by firm chairman Gordon Davidson and hiring partner John Steele, who shared a few facts of life about weathering the economic downturn. “They were very honest with us the first day because we’re all concerned about getting offers,” Bernard said. “They were so straight with us.” Bernard said the two partners came in with graphs and charts, answering associates’ questions before being asked. They were told that a diversified practice will help take the firm through a decline — and that no single client makes up more than 3 percent of the firm’s business. “There have been economic downturns before, and this firm and many more have gotten through them,” she said. “This is part of the cycle of life.” The overall message boiled down to this: Summer associates may feel the economy’s pinch this summer, but it won’t hurt much. Even with the tech boom in decline and average billables down, most San Francisco Bay Area firms haven’t significantly scaled back their summer hiring or pay. As it turns out, summer associate programs are holding up relatively well in the face of what hiring partners hope will only be a short-term economic downturn. Most firms completed the hiring for their summer programs by the end of November — just before the full effect of the bear market started to hit. Hiring that far in advance of actual start dates made it difficult for firms to accurately predict their summer workloads. But even so, firm recruiters say any temporary downturn wouldn’t affect their summer hiring much anyway. “We plan for it so many months in advance you don’t have time to change it,” said Karen Amatangelo-Block, attorney recruiting manager at Fenwick & West. “But you don’t want to all of a sudden say, ‘We’ll cut out the program,’ because you want to plan for the future.” Fenwick & West has trimmed the program in its Bay Area offices down from 69 summer associates in 2000 to 59 this year. But Amatangelo-Block said the reduction is more of an effort to trim the program down to a manageable size than any reaction to the economy. When Fenwick came in at 39th place on Fortune magazine’s annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in 1999, Amatangelo-Block said word got out about the firm and interest in spending a summer at Fenwick spread to law schools across the country. In 2000, the enrollment in Fenwick’s summer program jumped from 35 summer associates in 1999. In Fortune magazine’s 2000 list, Fenwick came in 41st. The same philosophy was seen at Cooley Godward, where John Dwyer, chairman of the hiring committee, said the smaller class is unrelated to the economic drop. “Last year, it was too big and the quality was slipping,” he said. Cooley’s summer class in the Bay Area declined from 75 students last year to about 10 fewer this year. While Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati has kept the number of summer associates firmwide fairly constant — 79 last year compared to 72 this year — the firm has slashed the number of summer associates in its Bay Area offices from 71 in 2000 to 52 this year. “It’s not a science: You can’t shoot for 75 and get 75,” said Keith Eggleton, a hiring partner at the firm. “We hired more into our branch offices, which makes sense because they’re growing.” At least one firm that did try to cut back on the number of summer associates this year by making fewer offers actually saw its summer class grow. “We were aiming for a slightly smaller program, but we had just a really high acceptance rate,” said Morrison & Foerster personnel committee co-chair Matthew Kreeger of the hiring in the firm’s San Francisco headquarters. “We calibrate our summer program based on what we expect our hiring to be in the fall.” Kreeger said the firm originally shot for 35 to 40 associates, but won’t have trouble finding enough work for the expected 45. Fellow personnel committee co-chair Susan MacCormac said, if anything, the firm may increase the minimum number of billable hours for summer associates. The firm also plans to rotate the students through a series of practice groups. “We’ll have a little broader assignment base,” MacCormac said. “There’s a broader interest [from summer associates] and we want to make sure we can place all 45.” MacCormac said the firm also has a busy social calendar planned for the students this summer to let them get to know the firm through its partners and associates. The associates will be guinea pigs for the first round ever of Mofonopoly — a seven- to eight-week game pitting teams of associates against each other to see which can best take a fictional business through its life cycle. FEWER FRILLS But just as attorneys and staff are expected to trim discretionary spending, so is this year’s summer class. “We may say you’re not going to go out to Spago’s three times a week, but the social component is still important,” said Fenwick’s Amatangelo-Block. Across the board, firms are keeping a watchful eye on the summertime frills. “We just hope that people use their common sense,” said Amatangelo-Block. She said partners are also expected to cut back on unplanned things like spur-of-the-moment dinners. At the same time, the firm has budgeted the same $100,000 for summer associate events and activities it did last year. Amatangelo-Block said that because the firm plans to save at least $300,000 in recruiters’ fees in 2001, the powers that be left her summer budget untouched. Barbara Merz, a summer associate at Pillsbury Winthrop going into her final year at Stanford Law School, said she’s happy with her job at Pillsbury. And to her, the fancy dining the firm plans to cut back on isn’t an important part of the summer program anyway. “I think that the major perk of a summer program is the mentoring you receive,” she said. “That’s the real major thing for me.” In her first week, she was paired up with two associates and a partner. “Anything that might have seemed over the top in the real go-go days … we’ll be looking to cut out,” said William Waller, co-chair of the national hiring committee for Pillsbury Winthrop. “We are making sure we don’t do anything excessive.” Waller added that the firm expects about the same number of summer associates in San Francisco as the 29 who worked there last year and anticipates an increase from the 13 who worked in its Palo Alto office in 2000. The firm has also kept its summer pay at $2,400 a week. Venture Law Group is cutting its summer associates’ weekend trip to Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Jon Gavenman, co-chair of VLG’s summer associate program, said he expects the cut to save the firm “a couple tens of thousands of dollars.” Gavenman added that “we did not adjust our hiring downward at all.” He added that the firm is paying its summer associates the same as last year, and the program essentially remains the same. But although the number of happy hours for associates will likely go down, if Bernard’s experience at the end of her first week at Fenwick is any indication, the quality of the firm’s summer program is up to par. In her first week, Bernard had already started work in antitrust as well as in patent defense and prosecution and had started researching a habeas corpus petition in a death penalty case. “One concern [firms] face in a fairly down market is finding good work for them to do,” said W. Jon Escher, of Palo Alto’s Solutus Legal Search. “It’s pretty hard to find work that’ll keep their summer associates interested.” And as graduates from top-tier law schools, they still come in at the top of an applicant pool — even in a downturn. “For students coming out of good law schools, we probably won’t see a big drop-off,” said Peter Mennell, a professor at The University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law and director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology. At Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, hiring partner Molly Lane said that although the firm has actually increased the number of summer associates firmwide from 103 in 2000 to 131 this year, the number in the San Francisco Bay Area has declined slightly. Last year, 25 students worked in the firm’s Palo Alto office compared to this year’s 22. In San Francisco, the number dropped from 26 to 23. The firm has also placed a 12-week cap on how long summer associates can work. Lane estimates that the change will affect eight to 10 students who planned on working about one week longer. “Every year we tinker with our program a little bit to standardize things across the firm,” Lane said. The firm declined to state specifically how much it plans to save on its summer program this year or how much it pays its summer associates. But at the market rate of $2,400 a week, Brobeck would save an estimated $19,000 on salary alone for the summers who planned on working the extra week. Like many others, Cooley’s Dwyer hopes the economic decline may have run its course by the time the current second-year students become full-fledged associates in fall 2002. And it’s that optimistic approach recruiters like Michael Brown of Major, Hagen & Africa say may have played a crucial role in saving this year’s summer class. “The fact that it’s a year and a half away helps, and I think most firms are hoping that the market will be better. Hope springs eternal.”

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