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New Jersey’s largest firms have offered full-time jobs in September 2002 to a high percentage of their recent summer associates, an apparent sign they believe the state’s market for legal services will remain strong. But some firms haven’t yet decided how many summer associates will be offered positions. That means they are uncertain about their staffing needs or are confident they can find good candidates among graduating third-year students who summered elsewhere, recruiting professionals say. At 12 of the large firms that said last week they had finalized offers, 81 full-time jobs were offered to 97 summer associates, an 84 percent offer rate. Exuding optimism about the future, Roseland’s Lowenstein Sandler says it offered permanent positions to all 13 of its second-year students. Woodbridge’s Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer made offers to nine of nine, and Newark’s McCarter & English invited back 10 of 14. Firms traditionally make projections about their needs for first-year associates two years in advance when they hire summer interns. A high percentage of offers to those interns means that firms have not dimmed those projections in anticipation of less work for fledgling lawyers. “We’re sticking to our plans and continue to move forward,” says Frank Ciuffani, the hiring partner at Wilentz Goldman. Debra Rosen, the hiring partner at Haddonfield’s Archer & Greiner, reflects the generally upbeat mood when she says, “We’re operating as business as usual. We have always hired if we have the work to do and we haven’t seen any cutoff of work.” So far, her firm has offered jobs to five of the six summer associates. Last week, many hiring partners and recruitment coordinators were conducting interviews for interns and full-timers for 2002, tasks they approached with little enthusiasm given everyone’s downcast mood after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 that killed so many people in Manhattan, the Pentagon and western Pennsylvania. “It’s a little hard to focus on anything right now,” says Susan Lehner, the recruitment coordinator at Woodbridge’s Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith, Ravin, Davis and Himmel. It was impossible to figure the effects of the destruction in Manhattan’s financial district on a legal business climate already darkened by the declining stock market and employment figures. And most partners at big firms who have responsibility for hiring don’t even try. Edward Deutsch, the managing partner of Morristown’s McElroy, Deutsch and Mulvaney, says, “I can only go by the work that comes in the door.” He adds: “We’re still plugging along. We’re looking to hire more people for next fall.” Paul Rowe of Greenbaum Rowe echoes that sentiment. He says that though the firm offered positions to four of seven clerks, it plans to do more hiring in coming months. There are 11 lawyers in this year’s class of first-year associates, he says. Mark Berman, who coordinates the summer associate program at Newark’s Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, says of the economic uncertainty: “It’s something we’re following. We’re not blind to what’s going on.” But he adds, “The office here is still going strong, and we plan to hire more lawyers.” Douglas Cohen, the hiring partner at Roseland’s Wolff & Samson, says, “Sure we’re cognizant of the economy. But our practice has been stronger than it has been over time. We’re not being cautious, we’re being aggressive.” Arlene Sengstack, who heads AV Search Consultants in Bridgewater, says firms with heavy transactional and technology practices are the ones that seem most concerned about the economic future. “On the other hand, some firms are still growing and expanding,” she says. Firms that haven’t made offers to summer associates may be refraining out of caution, but it’s not necessarily a sign of weakness, say Ronni Gaines and Stewart Michaels, the managing partners of Topaz Attorney Search in West Orange. Before the recent end of the financial boom, Gaines points out, New Jersey firms rushed to make offers to summer associates out of fear that lawyer-hungry New York firms would woo the best candidates. With the end of Wall Street firms’ frenzy for fresh lawyers, New Jersey firms can take more time deciding which potential recruits they like, she says. Michaels also says the effects of an economic downturn tend to be less onerous on lawyers. “The legal business has a lot of recession-proofing built into it.” Ironically, New Jersey firms may be benefiting from hard times at some large corporations. To cut costs, some corporations shed in-house lawyers, creating opportunities for outside firms. “We’re seeing a lot of outsourcing,” Michaels says.

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