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The first recruiting season since Philadelphia law firms joined the world of six-figure starting salaries is over. But many people believe the excitement created in hiring circles by the national salary raises was tempered by the economic downturn of the last quarter. The combination of those two factors, among other things, has students wondering whether the sagging economy is going to affect the number of summer associates who will later be offered full-time positions with firms. “We were wondering if employers were going to reduce the size of their [summer] classes,” said Joanne Verrier, director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “And if they staff at the same level and the economy continues to sag, what will that mean for permanent offers? Firms assure us that won’t be an issue, but it’s a question in the minds of these students.” At Villanova University Law School, new director of career services Elaine Petrossian, a former litigation associate in the Philadelphia offices of Morgan Lewis & Bockius and Reed Smith, said the salary increases have not been on the minds of most students. “At Villanova, I think the astronomical salary increases that have received all the press did not affect the majority of students entering the marketplace,” Petrossian said. “I’ve been struck by the diversity in career paths. Unlike my law school [University of Virginia] or Penn, I don’t think people here have been swept up by it. “As far as the students who have pursued the big-firm life, I think they are grounded in the economic reality. Students have a pretty good sense of the fact that these salaries are not free. The money has to come from somewhere. In return for the higher salaries they are going to have to make some important commitments. The students are pretty savvy of the economic situation. They have an idea of how certain firms responded in the past during economic downturns.” Hiring partners, such as Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll’s Mark Stewart, whose Philadelphia-based firm has brought in an extremely large class of summer associates (29), said the firm is not concerned about how the economy will affect its ability to make offers. In fact, he said Ballard Spahr plans to top off its already large list of summer hires with some 1Ls. “We wouldn’t be doing that if there was any concern,” Stewart said. “We’ve never had a situation where things are looking rosy in the fall but we can’t hire all of them in the summer. But I can understand their trepidation about the economy. If I was a law student, I guess I’d be thinking about that, too.” According to an informal polling of Philadelphia’s largest law firms, Ballard Spahr’s summer class was only second in size to Dechert’s 39. While many firms will fill out their summer classes with 1Ls, the bulk of their hiring for summer and fall 2001 is complete. Dechert co-hiring partner Glen Blumenfeld said that while his firm’s 37 2Ls might seem like a large group, it’s deceptive due to the number — he estimated between 12 and 15 — that will no doubt go on to clerk for a judge. “We don’t foresee any problems with hiring the people we bring in for the summer,” Blumenfeld said. “I did sense that they were a little nervous about the economy, but the biggest change from the past few years was that they weren’t talking about dot-coms as much. They used to tell us about business plans and their friends working for dot-coms and [ask us about] what dot-coms we represented. They are still interested in our emerging-growth practice, but all the talk about dot-coms was not as much of a focus.” At Philadelphia firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius, hiring partner Joseph Costello said his firm always hires fewer summer associates than it ultimately needs. “We want to be able to assure incoming summer associates that if they meet our standards, we’ll make them an offer,” Costello said. “They won’t fall by the wayside, and the economy won’t affect their standing with us.” As for the results of the just-completed hiring season, most firms hired a similar number of people for summer and fall. Two firms, Dechert and Ballard Spahr, dominated local Penn recruiting, hiring 24 of the 42 students from that law school heading to the 23 Philadelphia Center City firms polled by The Legal Intelligencer. “I think the reason certain firms did well with Penn is the perception that the quality and sophistication of the work at Dechert is comparable to a top New York firm without all the negatives of being at a New York firm,” said Blumenfeld, who, along with co-hiring partner David Howard, recruited 13 Penn law students for the summer. “But I think there is also the issue of the compensation structure. We are one of the firms that is openly dealing with the issue of [salary] compression [between different levels of associates]. For the firms that didn’t advertise that, I think the associates could read between the lines. We published fully not only our associate salary structure but also our bonus package.” While firms will no doubt add 1Ls from Penn, the group of 42 students set for summer positions in Philadelphia is a considerable drop from last year’s 63. Verrier said she thought she detected more of an interest in Philadelphia firms from the current Penn 2Ls during their first year of law school but that it hasn’t panned out that way. Philadelphia firms lost students to cities like Boston, Miami and San Francisco more this year than in the past when New York was the only desired locale. While the fact that Philadelphia’s pay scale — at $100,000 or $105,000 for the biggest firms — is some $20,000 below rival cities could be a major reason for this, Philadelphia hiring partners believe they made the right decision. Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads hiring partner Tom Suddath said the approach taken by Philadelphia firms will serve them better during hard economic times. “Philadelphia will be able to deal with the economy because of the measured approach taken both with the salary increases and the number of people hired,” Suddath said. And as for last summer’s associates, only 26 of those 63, or 41 percent, have accepted full-time offers for permanent employment this fall at the firms that responded to the survey. Hiring partners said that drop-off is a little deceiving because of all the Penn students that have deferred accepting an offer in favor of clerking for a federal judge. Verrier said by her latest numbers, 17 Penn law 3Ls will start clerkships with judges from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals or the Eastern District. While Penn numbers were down, Temple placed more students at local firms for summer 2001 than last summer (67, compared to 52 in 2000). And the school, which attracts mainly Philadelphia area students, also had 52 3Ls accept offers at Philadelphia firms for fall 2001. At Villanova, 32 2Ls will spend this coming summer working for a Philadelphia firm, down from the 45 who did so last year. In addition, 36 3Ls have accepted employment offers from Philadelphia firms for this fall. “Thanks in large part to our admissions office, we are drawing students from an increasingly national pool, specifically up and down the East Coast,” Villanova’s Petrossian said. “And I think they have a wider perspective of where to go. In the end, I think that will be good for the Philadelphia region to have its law students have a wider and higher profile. But Philadelphia is still our bread-and-butter market.” As for Philadelphia fall hires, Dechert once again has the largest class, with 36, followed by Pepper Hamilton with 22, Ballard Spahr and Morgan Lewis with 19 each and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis with 17.

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