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After holding steady for three years, summer associate programs at New Jersey’s largest firms have fallen to 1998 levels, a reflection of hiring committees’ caution about the future of the legal economy. This year’s class of 114 second-year interns in the New Jersey Law Journal‘s tracking survey is 18 percent smaller than last year’s 140. The drop-off in first-year students from 26 to 17 is an even more dramatic 35 percent. Of the 18 firms in the survey, three expanded their summer programs this year, three kept the same size, and 12 have fewer students. Law school placement directors at two New Jersey schools say the decline was predictable last summer, given the economic concerns prevalent when on-campus recruitment took place in 2001. The fall-off in positions at some firms also reflects the fact that they had unusually large programs last summer. “It’s a little bit of both,” says Mary Beth Daisey assistant dean for career services at Rutgers Law School-Camden. She and Debra King, assistant dean for career services at Seton Hall Law School, say a hefty number of students were interviewed, but relatively few received calls from firms. That was especially true among firms that made their offers for the summer of 2002 after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks raised fears of a sharp economic downturn. Firms in New Jersey have traditionally been careful to refrain from overhiring for summer programs, because disappointing large numbers of summer associates is bad for a firm’s reputation. Florham Park’s Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch had the largest drop-off in the number of 2Ls, a decline from 17 in 2001 to six this year. Hiring partner Hope Cone points out that the decline is less dramatic when viewed through the prism of history. Last year’s class was aberrationally large, compared with previous years’ 2L classes of seven in 2000, 11 in 1999, nine in 1998 and nine in 1997. “Last year’s was a large class, and we had an unusually high acceptance rate,” Cone says. That lowered predictions for how many first-year associates would be needed for 2003, she says. The numbers also are in sync with the firm’s decision to focus on hiring lateral associates, she says. Roseland’s Lowenstein Sandler made a modest reduction in class size this summer, though its group of 10 2Ls is the smallest since 1998. Hiring partner Joseph Steinberg suggests that the numbers demonstrate the difficulty of predicting staffing needs a year in advance. Richard Eittreim, the hiring partner at Newark’s McCarter & English, says he is pleased that predictions of a disastrous economic downturn that were voiced last year before and after Sept. 11 proved to be unwarranted. His firm stayed the course and hired 14 second-year students, the same number as 2001. Neither Steinberg nor Eittreim is making predictions about next year’s summer classes or trends in the general economy. “If I knew that, I’d become a stockbroker,” Eittreim says. RAISES ARE SLIM The conservative spirit that led to less hiring for this summer also affected weekly pay. While salary hikes used to average about 10 percent, the increase from 2001 to 2002 was only 3.67 percent, to an average of $1,700 per week. Nine firms held the line on salaries, including two paying the survey-high $2,000 per week: McCarter & English and Florham Park’s Drinker Biddle & Shanley. Hiring decisions made in 1999 and 2000 are still having a ripple effect on recruitment trends in New Jersey, according to placement deans and hiring partners. Because of the shrinking market for first-year associates in 2001 and 2002, the acceptance rate for full-time positions was high among interns in the relatively large summer classes of 1999 and 2000. With the economic downturn in 2001, there was little necessity for firms to return to campus last summer and fall to recruit graduates. “Recruitment of 3Ls was zilch,” Daisey says. Slowing or reversing the growth of summer programs at big firms wasn’t just a New Jersey phenomenon. In an online survey of member firms, the National Association of Law Placement reported that decreasing the size of summer programs was the second most popular belt-tightening measure after reducing recruiting department budgets. Of the 96 firms that responded to the survey, 43.8 said they had decreased the size of summer programs. Eleven percent of the firms said they actually considered eliminating summer programs, but in the end, none did. One large New Jersey firm that used to have summer associates, Middletown’s Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla, abandoned its program after 2000. Fox, Rothschild, O’Brien & Frankel, which has offices in Lawrenceville, Atlantic City and Voorhees, replaced Giordano Halleran in this year’s survey.

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