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With the start of the fall recruiting season underway on law school campuses nationwide, some already feel a chill. But several big firms are voicing cautious optimism about the job market. Anxiety is understandable. The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) reports that 26.4 percent of law firms reduced their on-campus recruiting last fall. For instance, take Leonidas Medina Jr., a second-year student at Roger Williams University School of Law. He took part in July 10 interviews at Rhode Island College. But the recruiters weren’t from law firms — they were looking for airline baggage handlers and passenger screeners. Law schools are mixed in their predictions for how this season will shape up. “We have as many firms signed up to interview as we had last year, and that’s the same as in the fall of 2000,” said Mary Beth Daisey, assistant dean for career services at Rutgers School of Law. “Last year’s tightening of the market didn’t show up until we started tallying the offers and callbacks per law firm.” Those who really know — the law firms — insist they are past the worst. Hiring partners contacted by The National Law Journal almost unanimously said decisions to scale down last fall — “becoming more selective” was a popular euphemism — means either maintenance of the status quo or even slight improvements this fall. Here are five snapshots, based on recent telephone interviews: Kristen Salzman, a corporate partner in charge of hiring at the home office of Kansas City, Mo.’s 300-lawyer Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin, said a few years back it wasn’t unusual to have 20 to 30 summer associates. This summer there are 11, with plans for 10 to 15 next year. Interviewing is planned at some 20 schools; the usual number, she said. Salzman attributed a possible increase in recruiting to geography: “The advantage of being in the middle of the country means that you don’t have the extremes of hiring and firing you see on the coasts.” San Francisco’s Cooley Godward is the coastal firm that started the 2001 round of en masse firings. Client-heavy in the faltering dot-com and technology sectors, it has dumped more than 10 percent of its nearly 700 lawyers. But associate layoffs don’t translate into less recruiting, insisted John C. Dwyer, the partner in charge of Cooley’s hiring committee. The firm had 81 second-year students in the summer of 2001 and 45 this summer. “Our plans are to go to the same schools as last year and get almost the same size class: 50, or maybe a little above that,” he said. Although an NALP survey showed that half the firms that need to tighten their belts chose first to cut their recruiting department budgets, Dwyer said that this is short-sighted and “about the last thing we’d do.” CLEARY: NO CHANGE Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton’s recruiting committee chairman, Jeffrey Lewis, said that recruiting this fall for his firm will be “exactly” like last year. The 618-lawyer firm, based in New York, aims for 80 to 85 students in its summer program, year in and year out. Deviations are because “it’s an art doing this, not a science,” he explained. For example, students accepted at a higher rate than expected in 2000. This meant that the firm, which prides itself on offering virtually all of its summer students jobs as first-year associates, found itself with an unwieldy class of 100. That, and not internal finances, was the reason for the “modification” to 80 last year. Piper Rudnick got publicity when its hiring committee chairman, Theodore Yi, confirmed that his home office in Chicago was halving its summer program from 20 in 2001 to 10 this summer. “We want to proceed prudently in this economy,” he told Chicago Lawyer. Asked about the future, he deferred to Marguerite Strubing, the firm’s legal recruiting manager. She said the scaling back last year to about 40 students firmwide — Piper Rudnick has 805 lawyers in 10 offices — means the firm can go to the exact same schools with the same number of offers this fall. Of course, she said, the firm is looking for students who say they’re drawn to litigation and bankruptcy, and is less enthusiastic about fledgling corporate securities experts. “But the students are cued in to the market. Two years ago, they all said they wanted work in the tech sector.” Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart’s recruiting manager, Nora Miller, said her 130-lawyer, West Palm Beach, Fla., firm is slowly expanding its summer program, from six in 2001 to eight this summer. “We didn’t overexpand in boom times, so we’re not downsizing now,” she said. It hasn’t hurt that more than half the firm are litigators.

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