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Over the past two years, attorney hiring in Connecticut has dropped dramatically, and some observers say the worst may finally be over. But while statistics bolster the argument that the rate of decline has at least slowed, they also illustrate that stability isn’t yet an adjective that can be used to describe law jobs. The national recession of the past few years has taken its toll on law firms, including the much-publicized dissolution of such venerable firms as Boston’s Hill & Barlow and San Francisco’s Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. No major Connecticut firms have announced dissolution plans because of economic problems, but many have seriously curtailed hiring. “Firms have been extremely cautious in additions to staff,” said attorney placement consultant Paul Kilman, principal of the Kilman Advisory Group in Farmington. However, there are indications that Connecticut firms may be seeing a bottoming out, and that attorney hiring may be poised for a comeback. POSITIVE SIGNS The U.S. Conference Board uses help-wanted advertising statistics from general interest newspapers as a leading indicator of overall job activity. In the Nutmeg State, The Connecticut Law Tribune runs the majority of advertising for legal placements, and is the only statewide source for legal help-wanted advertising. In 2001, as the economy began to worsen, the number of attorney help-wanted ads dropped 24 percent from 2000 — which was a record-breaking year for lawyer job ads. In 2002, that decline slowed to only 18 percent. By the end of the year, however, the total number of attorney help-wanted ads was still 41.7 percent below even 1999′s numbers. Attorney employment ads increased 8.4 percent in December 2002, the first time a monthly increase was registered since April of last year. Depending on the economic repercussions of war with Iraq, recruiters think attorney hiring in Connecticut could possibly return — not to the peaks of the late 90s, but to a level hiring rate — in 2004. “The late 90s and 2000 were artificially booming,” said Kilman. There was a hiring craze, he explained, because the surging economy created more work than lawyers could handle. Although over the past two years there were decreases in job availability, hiring in 2003 will be “incrementally better,” Kilman predicted, because many firms are now a “little lean” and in need of help. “It’s common sense,” added Nancy Barrer, of Barrer Legal Search in Madison. “With more work, comes more hiring.” Like Kilman, Barrer, too, sees a rise in demand over the next 24 months. Environmental and employment law prospered in the 1980s. Corporate and intellectual property law thrived in the 90s. Today’s growing field for attorneys is litigation, which, as attorney John H. Reid III, of Edwards & Angell’s Hartford office, states, “always needs new blood.” Statistics from The Conference Board, a nonprofit economic study group, indicate a continued downturn in general hiring. In a survey of 51 newspapers over the last three months of 2002, it discovered drop-offs in job ads for various fields in all nine U.S. regions, suggesting a national decrease in hiring. New England suffered the third steepest decline at 9.5 percent. Meanwhile, January statistics from The Connecticut Law Tribune indicate the roller coaster employment ride for lawyers isn’t over yet. Attorney help-wanted ads for the first month of 2003 were down 32 percent over the same month a year ago.

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