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Law students have been a sought-after bunch over the past few years. But times have changed. The economic downturn has already brought with it a giant stop sign for first-year associate salaries, which rose at most firms by 25 percent last year. And several firms around the country have announced layoffs, though that trend has not hit Philadelphia with any significance. Now, at least one firm has decided to temporarily abandon its summer associate program altogether. Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg & Ellers has “decided to take next summer off” and focus instead on expanding by way of lateral hires, managing partner William Harvey said. “The anecdotal evidence in other markets tells us that you get less bang for the buck with first-years and summers,” Harvey said. “So we will look at other alternatives to attracting young lawyers. We’ve had some success with laterals in the past three or so years. “We’re distressed at watching the low success rate of keeping first-years at all firms. And I sense a lot of dissatisfaction from managing partners all over in allocating resources to first-years and summer programs. There is a real question as to whether they should devote those resources to more experienced associates,” Harvey said. “Right now, we’re overwhelmed with resumes for laterals. And that leads us to believe that the talent pool will be there for us. So we’ll let other firms make the investment in summers and first-years.” Harvey said another factor for the change is the attitude of the firm’s client base, which he believes would not be happy footing such a hefty bill for first-years to “thrash around, finding themselves.” Clients want results, and that means productive lawyers. “Firms are already making unreasonable demands on first-years,” Harvey said. “They used to have time to get their feet wet, but now they have to hit the ground running. And the result is that there is a higher level of dissatisfaction in these young people, and firms are cutting them loose. We would rather spend money on lawyers able to provide a higher level of service.” Wayne, Pa.-based law firm consultant Robert Denney said he had advised midsized firms like Klehr Harrison to abandon its entry-level hiring in favor of lateral hiring. “First, you have the tremendous cost of the summer program and law school recruiting,” Denney said. “And you’re competing against the large firms, so you might not always get who you want. And a lot of clients object to having to pay for first-years.” Despite his belief that eliminating summer programs is a good idea, Denney said, he has seen few firms do it. Elaine Petrossian, Villanova Law School’s director of career planning, said her concern would be how Klehr Harrison could dip its feet back into the entry-level pool when the economy improves. “The risk you run is if you have established a pipeline at certain schools, you break that pipeline and make it harder to get back in,” she said. “But in the early ’90s, some firms stumbled for a few years but they eventually were able to get back in.”

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