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It was a buyers’ market once again in the world of law firm hiring, as the fall recruiting season ended with large firms keeping their class sizes down while acceptance rates for 2003 summer and first-year associate positions remained relatively high. Hiring partners said things ran much more smoothly this past fall in comparison with 2001, which was marred logistically and financially by the 9/11 terror attacks. And, they said, with hiring numbers at local firms virtually unchanged from the previous hiring season, students had to combat the continued conservative approach of employers with a more focused approach to job interviews. “I think the people we saw this year were really prepared and focused on having long-term careers at law firms,” said Donna Branca, director of attorney relations at Philadelphia-based Blank Rome, which had the largest summer class of the firms that responded to The Legal Intelligencer‘s second annual recruiting survey. According to the survey, which includes responses concerning the Philadelphia offices of 18 firms, including 10 of the 15 largest Philadelphia law firms, 2003 summer and first-year hiring was down slightly. Though some firms are still supplementing both classes with 1Ls and 3Ls respectively, the bulk of the hiring was completed by December. In terms of summer associates, there were 13 firms that provided information both this year and last year. Summer hiring decreased from an average of 8.9 law students to 8.5. And only six of the total 18 respondents said that they plan to supplement those numbers with 1Ls. The two firms that raised starting salaries to $125,000, Dechert and Philadelphia’s Morgan Lewis & Bockius, did not participate in the survey, so there is no clear way to judge whether all of the additional cash being thrown at potential recruits had any tangible effect on their hiring. Dechert hiring partner Fred Herold did not return phone calls seeking information about how the firm’s new salary structure affected its recruiting success. “I don’t know if it affected the decisions of our students, because they announced it after applications were made and interviews were already set up,” said Rutgers-Camden School of Law director of career planning Mary Beth Daisey. “I think it would have more of a long-term effect.” Five firms — Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, Morgan Lewis, Pepper Hamilton, Reed Smith and Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen — declined to participate in the survey because they did not wish to answer a question that sought the number of offers extended for 2003 summer positions. At least two recruiting professionals at those firms said that statistic was “not relevant” to the local legal community because it does not factor in variables such as the schools that the students attended or how many and which firms were also seeking the applicants. But several hiring partners at firms that did choose to answer the question said that they believe the statistic might be a little too relevant for the taste of some of their peers. When factoring in the number of students who accepted offers and determining an acceptance percentage, firms can determine how efficient they were during the recruiting process, one hiring partner said. The standard acceptance rate is one-third, and most large firms hovered a little above or below that number. Blank Rome made the same number (47) of offers this year as last year but saw its acceptance rate increase from 31.9 percent to 42.6 percent. “For the most part, we all compete for the same people, so I do look at acceptance rates,” Blank Rome managing partner Fred Blume said. “I don’t know why we had such a good acceptance rate this year, but, of course, I’d like to think it’s because our summer program has received good grades.” At Fox, Rothschild, O’Brien & Frankel, Jean Durling, director of professional recruitment and development, said she found that more students wanted the firm to keep them under consideration even if it did not extend a summer offer to them. “I’m not sure whether that was a reflection of less offers [extended in the marketplace] or an increase in interest in the firm,” said Durling, whose firm received acceptances from half of the 14 students to whom it extended offers. Duane Morris hiring partner James Holman said the market was flooded with students looking for summer positions, making it more difficult for firms to find the proper number of offer extensions. “The trick was not to make too many offers,” Holman said. “Our goal was [having a summer class of] 10 to 15, and we wound up with nine. The acceptance rate is usually one out of every three or four, but we had to assume that it would be one out of every two. I think firms were waiting a little longer than normal to extend offers, but no one wants to seem overly conservative.” Daisey said she thinks that firms wanted to have slightly smaller class sizes without giving the appearance that their practices were affected by the economic downturn. “They just don’t know what the economy is going to look like a year later when those summer associates are hoping to get offers [for first-year positions],” Daisey said. “The firms want to be able to make offers to at least 90 percent of their summer class. So they try and be conservative with class size.” Karen Jackson Vaughn, assistant dean for career planning at Temple University Beasley School of Law, said firms were a little more stringent this year when it came to gauging students’ credentials. “I think employers were a little more strict in terms of the people they interviewed,” Jackson Vaughn said. “They were very focused on the top students and a bit more restrictive based on academic credentials. But that often happens during a downturn, and our students always interview well because they do their homework on the firms.” As for first-year recruiting, 85.8 percent of last year’s summer associates at the 18 responding firms were extended offers for full-time employment. And 86.4 percent of those who were extended offers accepted them. First-year class size did not change much from last year, as the average size at the responding firms was 6.8, compared with 7.1 in 2002. Similarly, only six of the 18 firms said they planned on supplementing their first-year classes with 3Ls who did not participate in their summer programs. Jackson Vaughn said students were a bit more anxious than normal because the competition for jobs was more intense. But because the recruiting season starts so early and students are not required to inform firms of whether they are accepting summer or first-year associate positions until December, firms were also apparently becoming a little anxious as well. Jackson Vaughn and Daisey said the National Association for Legal Placement is looking into moving the acceptance deadline to an earlier date. “Students are holding offers for almost two months, and, when that happens, firms tend to think that it’s going to be a negative,” Daisey said. “But students are students and they respond to deadlines. Most of them received their last offer at least a month before the deadline, and they are just waiting for the deadline. “One idea was to require that students make their decisions six or seven weeks after receiving an offer. And I don’t think that’s a bad idea. But they are discussing several ideas.”

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