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Playing it safe in a tepid economy, Connecticut’s two largest law firms later this month will welcome aboard substantially fewer summer associates than they did a year ago. Other Connecticut firms, meanwhile, are either trimming the size of their summer programs as well, or essentially holding them steady. Lingering doubts of an economic resurgence, coupled with an increasing emphasis on lateral hiring, prompted Day, Berry & Howard to deliberately cut back this year’s summer program to 14 law students — five less than last year and 10 less than in 2000, said Paula Lacey Herman, the firm’s hiring partner. Come the end of August, no firm wants to be in the awkward position of being unable to extend offers to summer interns who have proven their worth. Especially not Day Berry, the state’s top-grossing law firm, whose policy is to make offers to every summer associate who meets its hiring criteria. “If we’re going to make a mistake” in predicting the firm’s entry-level hiring needs, Herman said of smaller summer class, “we’d rather have too few [summer associates] than too many.” TOO MANY TO ABSORB Day Berry kept to its word last year. Eight of the nine second-year law students in its Hartford office were asked to join the firm upon graduation, as were the two second-year students who interned in its Stamford office, according to Herman. (The firm doesn’t extend offers to first-year students.) Only one of the five second-year students in its Boston office last year got an offer. But Herman insisted that the other four weren’t turned away because there were no positions available. “We would have extended offers [to them], if we thought the quality was there,” she said. Cummings & Lockwood hiring partner Wendi J. Kemp, however, admitted the Stamford-based firm would have made offers to more of its 15-member summer class last year had its corporate practice been in need of more entry-level legal help. Of the 11 second-year students, seven of them received offers, including one who already had accepted a clerkship and won’t start at the firm until the fall of 2003, Kemp said. The other four who accepted permanent employment with the firm will begin there this fall. Two of those four, Kemp said, had spent the entire summer in Cummings & Lockwood’s corporate practice, and were selected over two other summer associates who also requested positions in the group, but only worked half of their summers there. Ideally, the firm would have liked to hire all four of them, she said. But “it’s tough to think that any practice group can absorb” four entry-level associates in a single year, Kemp noted. “We try very hard not to have more second-year summer associates than we have hiring needs for,” she said of this year’s summer class, which was reduced to 12 members, of whom nine are second-year law students. (That number doesn’t include an Austrian law school graduate who will intern at the firm this summer while completing his apprenticeship.) ABLE TO BE PICKIER This year’s summer associates at Cummings & Lockwood also are being “strongly encouraged” to divide their time between no more than two practice groups, Kemp said. Summer associates, she added, should have a good idea of what areas of the law they want to specialize in when they come to the firm “because if you don’t you are at somewhat of a disadvantage.” Those who have built strong relationships with a particular practice group by the end of August likely stand the best chance of receiving offers, Kemp maintained. That approach differs from most other firms where summer associates still receive random assignments from a wide variety of practice groups, unless they request otherwise. “A lot of second-year [summer] associates don’t know what their interest is,” Herman said. Like Day Berry, Hartford-based Robinson & Cole also doesn’t assign interns to individual practice groups. Rather, said hiring partner James P. Ray, the firm wants its summer associates to have the freedom to explore different areas of the law and get to know as many of its lawyers as possible. This year, Robinson & Cole will host seven summer associates, down from 10 last year, he said. All but one of last year’s group received offers, according to Ray. Cross-town competitor Shipman & Goodwin also cut back on the total number of law students in its summer program, from 12 to nine, said Stephen K. Gellman, head the of firm’s hiring committee. But, he added, Shipman will have the same number of second-year law students as it did in 2001: eight. Assembling the group was far less of a struggle this year, he added. Last year, in order to recruit six second-year summer associates in its Hartford office, the firm had to make 22 offers, Gellman said. But this year, it only had to make 11 offers to come up with five second-year summer associates for the office. “That was a big shift, and really changes your whole recruiting season,” he said. ” … You’re a lot pickier.” Pullman & Comley and Tyler Cooper & Alcorn are among the Connecticut firms whose summer programs remain the same size as they were a year ago. Hartford-based Murtha Cullina, meanwhile, will welcome aboard one more summer associate in its Boston office than it did a year ago. Of last year’s seven-member summer class, six got offers, said hiring partner Hugh F. Murray. Providing they meet the firm’s hiring criteria, there’s no reason this year’s group won’t achieve the same success, Murray said.

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