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With its initial public offering business waning, Venture Law Group put its incoming first-year lawyers on hold. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based law firm told its 13 new associates to report to work in January rather than in the early fall, the traditional start of the work year for beginning lawyers, said Craig Johnson, Venture’s Law Group’s chairman and co-founder. Following recent layoffs by another prestigious law firm, Venture Law Group’s announcement is yet another indication of the effect that the slowing economy is having on Silicon Valley firms. Three of those 13 associates have chosen to pursue other options, Johnson added. Venture Law Group focuses on venture capital and IPO work in the technology sector. Because it does only corporate work, the law firm has been hit especially hard by the recent tech crash. Other law firms such as San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison that also do litigation work have been better able to cushion the blow. VLG has also funded pro bono projects for a certain number of its associates, Johnson said. “We’re trying to give people something constructive to do,” he said, noting that one associate has taken an internship in Washington, D.C. Starting with 14 lawyers in 1993, VLG now has about 115 lawyers, according to its Web site. (The site’s directory lists 96 lawyers.) Johnson said that the firm has had “fewer than 10″ performance-related reviews and that its attrition this year is about 15 percent, the same as in previous years. Johnson said that half of those 15 percent are usually let go for performance-related reasons, while the other half seek other opportunities. But the firm recently cut approximately nine lawyers or 10 percent of its attorneys. Law firms rarely fire or lay off associates in normal economic circumstances. But “In this environment, we’re going to be much less aggressive in hiring,” Johnson said. “It’s a very difficult time to plan.” His firm isn’t alone. Consider the woes of other Silicon Valley firms, including the decision by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cooley Godward to lay off 85 lawyers in July. Acknowledging the problems facing the area’s firms, Johnson said, “If you don’t see some pretty significant turnaround by the first of the year, you’ll see some pretty interesting moves by the area firms.” Copyright (c)2001 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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