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With the market no longer theirs for the taking, law students accepted job offers faster and with greater frequency during the recently completed recruiting season, according to Philadelphia law firm hiring partners. Hiring partners said the economic downturn, which deepened after the Sept. 11 tragedy, forced students to focus more seriously on their career path and treat job interviews more seriously. “When they came in, they were very focused and prepared,” Duane Morris hiring partner James Holman said. “Last year, students had so many firms after them, they tended not to be as interested. This year was a much more pleasant experience. The numbers of people we saw didn’t go down, and they were more focused. They would get on your Web site and learn every fact about your firm.” According to a survey conducted by The Legal Intelligencer, the number of schools firms visited did not change, but many decided to cut back on hiring. Dechert, which has had by far the largest summer and first-year classes in Philadelphia over the past few years, came back to the pack this year. After hiring 42 summer associates last year, the firm hired 32 for this coming summer. Glenn Blumenfeld, who along with litigator David Howard, just completed his tenure as Dechert’s co-hiring partners, said the firm felt it wouldn’t be fair to keep up that hiring pace with the economy sagging. “Unlike other firms, we do most of our hiring through our summer program and not laterals,” Blumenfeld said. “Based on the economy, we didn’t feel we needed to hire as many people as we had in the past. It just wouldn’t have been responsible. Plus, our attrition rate was much lower than it had been in previous years.” Dechert was not alone in decreasing its numbers. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius decreased the size of its summer class from 24 to 15, Pepper Hamilton went from 28 to 20, Drinker Biddle & Reath from 22 to 13, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis went from 19 to nine, Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young went from 11 to six, Wolf Block Schorr and Solis-Cohen went from 16 to eight and Woodcock Washburn went from 10 to three. First-year hiring was also down significantly at some of the same firms. Dechert went from 39 to 23, Morgan Lewis from 23 to 16, Schnader Harrison from 17 to nine and Cozen O’Connor from 11 to six. Though both sets of numbers could be supplemented by additional hires, most firms are clearly playing the recruiting game in a much more conservative fashion than during the boom years of the late 1990s. RECESSION? WHAT RECESSION? Recruiting efforts at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, though, were seemingly unaffected by the economy. The firm hired roughly the same number of summer associates and increased its first-year numbers from 19 to 26. Hiring partner Mark Stewart said students appeared more focused on Philadelphia compared to previous years and less focused on New York. Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley hired exactly the same number of summers and first-years as it had in 2001. Co-hiring partner Scott Cooper said the firm did not interview as many students but had a higher acceptance rate. “There’s nothing worse than having too many lawyers for the work you have,” Cooper said. “So we made sure to save spots for people that we interviewed later in the recruiting period.” Unlike previous years, most firms are not hiring first-years to supplement their summer classes. Because of that, the few firms that are hiring first-years have been inundated with resumes. Blank Rome co-hiring partner Grant Palmer said the firm has received more than 1,000 resumes from first-years. Because the marketplace shifted from student-driven to firm-driven, law school career planning offices went into overdrive trying to prepare students for the climate change. Elaine Petrossian, assistant dean of career services at Villanova University School of Law, said she began the process last spring for the then first-years who are now second-years. “We actually had a required workshop dealing with job search skills,” Petrossian said. “Signs were on the horizon that the pendulum was swinging. So we deliberately worked in a strong message that it was important for the students to put their best foot forward at every stage of the process.” For the first time, The Legal Intelligencerconducted an in-depth survey dealing with recruiting. Some firms were uncomfortable with the sensitivity of the questions and chose not to participate. Those firms included Akin Gump Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Drinker Biddle, Morgan Lewis, Pepper Hamilton, Schnader Harrison and Wolf Block. The survey asked how many schools and job fairs and consortia firms visited last year, how many individual interviews were conducted at both as well as the number of call-back interviews, job offers and job acceptances each firm recorded. Of the 15 firms that responded to the survey [see chart], the average number of schools visited was 13 and the average number of on-campus interviews conducted was 221. Firms reported that they attended an average of two job fairs where they conducted an average of 28 individual interviews. A combined firm average of 76 individual call-back interviews were conducted while 33 offers were extended and 11 students accepted. The one-third acceptance ratio was deemed as on par with most years, according to hiring partners. “That doesn’t strike me as being much different than the numbers we’ve seen in the past,” Holman said. NEW WORLD, NEW LOGISTICS One of the main problems firms and students faced during the recent recruiting season was the logistical issues created by Sept. 11. Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads hiring partner Tom Suddath had interviews scheduled at Duke University Law School the weekend after the tragedy. Duke was a school where the firm was eager to make inroads, so a grounded Suddath decided to make the all-day drive to North Carolina. Blumenfeld said Dechert was more hesitant to ask attorneys to fly to far off places for recruiting purposes unless it was viewed as an important trip. But he said the uneasiness of air travel during the fall months made it easier to weed out which students were really interested in working at the firm and which one were not. “We were more accommodating to students who were having problems with flights because we realized how difficult it was to fly,” Blumenfeld said. “But we also took notice when a student would take the time to fly halfway across the country for an interview. That shows a genuine interest in the firm.” Related charts: Recruiting Season Review Recruiting Numbers Over the Years

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