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In a sign that attorneys are not immune from the woes of the general economy, job ads for lawyers in New Jersey’s legal newspapers dropped 12.7 percent in 2002, the steepest decline in recent years. Law firm consultants and recruiters, for whom January is usually a time to identify growing fields of practice for the coming year, said last week that no one practice area is likely to get hot in 2003. The only thing that’s really booming is “anyone with business,” says Arlene Sengstack, a recruiter at AV Search Consultants in Bridgewater, N.J. What makes lawyers desirable is not what field they are in but whether they have clients of any kind, she and other advisers say. The drop in ads appears to reflect a sluggish demand for services and caution about bringing in lawyers for work that is not likely to materialize. Firms and companies placed lawyer-wanted ads in the New Jersey Law Journal and in the State Bar Association’s weekly New Jersey Lawyer for a combined average of 82 times a week in 2002. That compared with an average of 93 ads a week in 2001. The worst slump came last month. The December ad average of 67 was 30 percent lower than the 96 in November, the sharpest one-month decline in the two-year period. Nostalgia buffs should consider this: In the middle of 1997, firms and companies placed 145 ads a week and even as recently as March 2000, before the recession started to bite, the average weekly ad rate in the two papers was 133. Using classified ads as a gauge of changes in job supply is an invention of The Conference Board, a nonprofit economic think tank. Its survey of 51 U.S. newspapers showed a marked decline in help-wanted ads across the spectrum of jobs and regions. In the Middle Atlantic states, ad placements declined 6.4 percent over three months ending Nov. 30. Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein says the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, did not appear to have a measurable affect on the findings of the 2001 national want-ad survey. Among advertisers for lawyers in New Jersey, it is possible the terrorism only worsened an already dismal picture. The numbers were in decline for five straight months before Sept. 11 and dove below the 100-ad mark in July 2001 for the first time in five years. For a while the ads rebounded, hitting 99 in February 2002, but they never got that high again. Recruiters, for whom being upbeat is a professional necessity, are not keen to admit they see a downturn, but they do not need to read the numbers to know what is going on. Sengstack, the membership vice president for the National Association of Legal Search Consultants, says, “many of the members expressed having had a difficult year in 2002.” FEW GOLDEN GEESE The question they and everyone else involved in hiring have is: What is up for 2003? Ward Bower, a consultant at Altman Weil Inc. in Newtown Square, Pa., says the goal for firms in 2003 will be to manage costs in a struggling economy, not to find new golden geese like intellectual property law. “Not as hot,” except for the lucky few who handle patent prosecutions, is how he characterizes the glittering niche of 2000 and 2001. Firms used to do well by having practice groups in bustling new areas like environmental law in the early ’80s, employment law in the late ’80s and early ’90s and intellectual property in the late ’90s. Many of those fields were made important by changes in laws and regulations, but Bower says there have been few such changes in recent years to create demand for new specialties. One exception he cites is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the post-Enron revision of securities law that creates vast new reporting requirements for corporations and therefore work for corporate lawyers. Bower also says that on a national level, so-called counter-cyclical work like bankruptcy is strong, which is not surprising given the state of the economy. At the same time, though, securities work and other corporate transactional business is down, Bower and Cherry Hill, N.J., management consultant Joel Rose say. Pressed to name a practice area that remains robust, most consultants and recruiters fall back on a hardy perennial: litigation. Linda Berthold, who places full-time attorneys for Haley Stuart Inc. in Montvale, N.J., says there is a demand for good product liability lawyers, particularly on the defense side. That demand is fueled by a growth in plaintiffs’ lawyers enticed by the spike in size of verdicts and settlements. New Jersey is fertile ground for such work because of the many pharmaceutical companies based here, Berthold says. She and Ronni Gaines, co-owner of Topaz Attorney Search in West Orange, say employment law also remains a strong field in New Jersey. For most firms, though, “the only thing that’s hot is where there is business,” Gaines concludes. Rose says, “There are so many conflicting trends it’s almost bizarre. These are tough times for those involved in managing firms.” Besides trying to find clients in traditional fields, firms are struggling to compete with other professionals, particularly accountants, who provide some of the services that used to be exclusively done by corporate and commercial lawyers. In the employment law field, for example, corporations are replacing outside counsel with nonlawyers in human resources department to run programs to prevent discrimination suits. Getting a job in a corporate law office these days may have just as much to do with an applicant’s heritage as with the type of law he or she practices. Sengstack says a growing number of corporations with long-standing commitments to having a work force whose race and ethnicity reflects society as a whole appear to be focusing on their in-house law offices. The message to general counsel is, “you have to make an effort to bring in a more diverse legal team,” she says.

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