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Although nine of Texas’ 25 largest firms hired fewer summer associates this year, there’s still some good news for law students: Combined, those 25 firms hired 1,291 students for 2001 clerkships, up 54 from last year. Summer associate salaries increased this year, with the average weekly salary up to $1,961, compared to 2000′s average of $1,543. Some lawyers thought the sluggish economy would mean a decrease in hiring, but that’s just not so, says Taylor Wilson, hiring partner at Dallas-based Haynes and Boone. The firm — which also has offices in Austin, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio — hired 148 students this summer, an increase of 48. “We’re growing,” he says. “The number of associates in our summer program is indicative of our strategy for continued growth. I think it’s important that people understand that we hire for the long term. We tend to hire during different market cycles with only marginal differences. We do pay attention to [economic factors]. But we don’t intend to have wild swings based on how the stock market is doing or other economic factors. We don’t think that’s ultimately in our clients’ best interests.” This year, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld decreased the number of summer associates it hired. Primarily, that’s due to successful attorney retention efforts, which means the firm needs fewer summer associates, says Dan Micciche, hiring partner in the Dallas office. The firm also has Texas offices in Austin, Houston and San Antonio. “I’d like to say we had a crystal ball and knew the economy was going to be slower,” he says. “There was some effort not to get too big. We still think the legal market is strong and growing. While we’re pretty aggressive in our growth plans, we still want to be careful.” Recruiting numbers will continue to go up and down, says Randy Montgomery, hiring partner at Dallas-based Strasburger & Price, which also has offices in Austin, Houston and San Antonio. “I think people expect it to turn the other way at some point,” he says. “It’s not an ‘if’ it’s going to turn around; it’s a ‘when,’ because recruiting is always cyclical.” Some firms may have over-hired this summer, says John Strasburger, hiring partner at the Houston office of New York-based Weil, Gotshal & Manges. The firm also has a Dallas office. “There are certain firms that are based much more in technological deal work,” he says. “I think those firms may have over-hired. … The nice thing about big firms is that there’s such a balance between practice areas. When one is down, another is up. It’s tough to generalize among firms because the practices are so different. But I would not want to be a law student going to a firm that did nothing but high-tech corporate deals.” Weil Gotshal hired fewer summer associates in its Texas offices this year, down to six compared to last year’s 14. Strasburger says the main reason for the decrease was due to the firm’s decision not to hire 1Ls this year. “It’s really nothing more than a business decision,” he explains. “We reached the conclusion that it wasn’t a great return on our investment to have the program. We’ve found that first years are somewhat unfocused on where they [ultimately] want to be, and that’s probably healthy. … Second years are more focused. It’s getting closer to reality for them.” Houston-based Bracewell & Patterson — which also has offices in Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio — cut its number of first-year clerks, too, says hiring partner Jeff Horner. “We didn’t want to have as many as we’ve had in prior years,” he says. “With the increasing cost of hiring new lawyers, we’re being a little pickier on the front end.” However, many firms continue to hire 1L summer associates to maintain good relationships with the law schools they recruit from and to establish relationships with law students early on. “I like it when you get the right 1L,” Horner says. “One reason is that you’re getting someone early on. The other good reason is to try and spread out among the schools we recruit in so they go back and talk up your firm. They become a cheerleader for your firm on that campus.” Other firms also believe 1Ls are a good investment. “We have had good success with those clerks returning and, ultimately, being hired,” Haynes and Boone’s Wilson says. “We believe hiring first years is something that’s in our firm’s best interest, although it’s obviously a smaller program than our second-year program.” Fort Worth-based Kelly, Hart & Hallman went to only one six-week session for summer associates, as opposed to two. “We felt we could spend more time with them and get to know them better,” says Andy Rogers, chairman of the firm’s recruiting committee. And a more intimate atmosphere is one advantage the 79-attorney firm, which also has an office in Austin, has to offer over its larger competitors, he says. “We know everyone in our firm,” he says. “In a big firm, you might work there a couple of years and not meet everyone. Here, by the end of the summer, you’ve met everyone.” Another consideration for small firms is flexibility, Rogers says. “Big firms pretty much know they’re going to make X number of offers,” he says. “With us being a smaller firm, we don’t want to make 10 to 15 offers each year. We don’t want to have our hands tied to do that. “Our intent is that every single associate in our firm will make director,” he says. “That’s our goal. Some of the big firms feel, I think, that if we hire too many associates, through natural attrition, not all of them will be around to make partner and not all of them will make partner. We don’t want to do any trimming and culling due to lack of opportunity.” One area that is hard to judge for any firm is its acceptance rate, Bracewell’s Horner says. “You try to judge roughly the offers you give based on past acceptance rates,” he says. “If your acceptance rates go up — for whatever reason � you’ll have more clerks. … I think people may not have guessed their acceptance rates as well as they might have [this year]. Others might not have seen a downturn in the economy. However, I don’t see a lot of economy-driven hiring decisions because, typically, most Texas firms will still have a lot of work.” It’s simply a matter of moving work between practice areas, Horner says. NOT A SCIENCE With thriving practice areas, some firms believe they’ve under-hired this summer. “Even though we have a good number of people coming in, by the end of the summer, there will still be a number of needs that haven’t been met,” Montgomery says. Weil Gotshal’s Strasburger agrees. “Our experience in Houston is that we have a strong bankruptcy and litigation practice,” he says. “Those are thriving as are our corporate and tax practices. So, if anything, I think we may have under-hired. … The economy is just one of the many things you have to look down the road and predict. Our philosophy is that we’re pretty conservative in hiring and expansion. The good news is that we’re rarely overstaffed. The bad news is that our lawyers are very busy.” Many firms shy away from overstaffing because so many attorneys lost work in the late ’80s after the real estate market went south in Texas, Haynes and Boone’s Wilson says. But, it would be a mistake to take that sort of thinking too far, he notes. “We look three years ahead,” he says. “I think the projections we do are well thought out and carefully considered. In the early ’90s, people slowed their hiring considerably and then regretted it in the mid-’90s when the economy picked up again.” Hiring decisions aren’t easy, Micciche says. “It’s not a science,” he says. “You do the best you can to predict future needs, growing practice areas and attrition rates. I think every business faces that. You don’t really know, so you do the best you can.” It’s important to remember that a clerkship offer doesn’t necessarily translate into a permanent job offer, Kelly Hart’s Rogers says. “You want to bring in a mix, not make an associate hiring decision,” he says. “You see something in those people that will possibly trigger the desire to hire those people. You have six weeks to look them over. You’re just looking for people who might fit.”

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