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Legal employers from around the country have begun flocking to Washington, D.C., for the annual fall ritual of on-campus interviews at area law schools. But as the economy continues to tank, there are indications that law students may face a tougher time landing law firm jobs than they have in recent years. Interview programs are in full swing at most area schools, with hundreds of employers — mainly law firms but also government agencies and other businesses — holed up in local hotels receiving a steady stream of earnest job-seekers. While law school administrators haven’t seen a significant change in the number of employers participating in their programs, several say they’re concerned that firms may ultimately hire fewer summer associates this year. They also note that some firms are shying away from third-year students, preferring to interview only second-years. And at at least one school, several firms have canceled interviews. George Washington University Law School saw 22 firms back out of some on-campus interviews — although that’s a small fraction of the more than 500 firms that participate in the school’s program, notes Fred Thrasher, GW’s director of career development. Many are smaller, regional firms from outside the D.C. area. But several large firms — including Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld; LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae; McGuireWoods; Seyfarth Shaw; and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati — canceled some interviews for specific offices. Pamela Malone, McGuireWoods’ recruiting director, explains that the firm canceled interviews for its D.C., McLean, and Baltimore offices at GW because “over the years, we haven’t been highly successful there.” She adds, “There’s no question that we’re hiring more cautiously.” Wilson Sonsini is the only major firm to cancel interviews at GW for all its offices. “We’re trying to take steps to be more deliberate about our manpower needs,” says Jeffrey Saper, managing partner for strategic planning. But, he insists, “we’re not in paralysis or anything close to it.” Administrators at other area schools claim that firms have not canceled interviews with their students. The cancellations at GW were posted on the school’s Web site. While students and law school deans nervously watch the economy, some elite firms see a chance to snag top-tier candidates. Jonathan Greenblatt, hiring partner for Shearman & Sterling’s D.C. office, says he’s interviewing students at GW, Georgetown, and Howard University — the same schools as last year. “We’re not competing with dot-coms this year and, I think, not competing with as many firms,” he says. “There’s no question that this is a buyer’s market. And we feel like we can be very selective.”

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