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Responding to concerns from its associates in the wake of recent layoffs, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis has reduced the length of its summer clerkship program from 10 weeks to seven weeks. In another move, Schnader Harrison’s Philadelphia office managing partner has informed incoming first-year associates that the firm has recently experienced layoffs but assured them that their job status is unchanged. Philadelphia office managing partner Diana Donaldson said the idea of curtailing the summer program was born in meetings of the firm’s associates committee and summer associates committee. Donaldson said that because of recent layoffs, associates expressed concern about whether there would be enough work for them and the eight summer associates who are scheduled to join the Philadelphia office. Schnader Harrison summer associates will start on June 6 and leave on July 26. “We felt pretty confident that that wouldn’t be a problem, but there was a perception from our associates that it might be,” Donaldson said. “So we listened to them, and we explored some options.” One possibility was to have their summer associates split their time between the firm and a public interest job, something Philadelphia-based Morgan, Lewis & Bockius did just last summer. But that idea was rejected because the firm felt that four or five weeks was not long enough for the firm to evaluate the summer clerk and vice versa. “We want to look at people for longer than a month,” Donaldson said. “That wouldn’t give us enough time to judge how well someone can write, research or interact with people. But with seven weeks, we think we can do that and not compromise the summer program in any way.” Donaldson said that no summer associates have backed out of their offers after being informed of the change. She said that firm management was concerned about how the summers would feel about relinquishing three weeks of pay, which equals out to be $6,000. “We asked our associates about it, and they said that it is an obscene amount of money after only seven weeks and that none of them would have too much of a problem with it,” Donaldson said. Donaldson also said that she has personally informed incoming first-year associates of the layoffs and assured them that they still had jobs waiting for them. She relayed the information to the incoming associates to enable them to evaluate their options if the news created too much uncertainty for their taste. “I didn’t tell them to explore other options,” Donaldson said of her conversations with the six law students who have accepted offers to become first-year associates in September. “They still have an offer here, but they needed to be told about [the layoffs]. Some of these people were hired two or three years ago and are now clerking for a judge and read about the layoffs in [ The Legal Intelligencer], but there were some others who didn’t know about it. We weren’t obligated to tell them, but we didn’t think it was fair to have them walk into a situation where they might not have come here if they had known about [the layoffs].” Donaldson said that when she called the incoming first-years and told them the news, many asked if Schnader Harrison was rescinding its offers. “I told them that they still had an offer, and we would be able to accommodate all of them at this point, but with the economy the way it is, you never know how things are going to be [months down the road when they start their employment]. I told them to take the call as nothing more than an advisory of a development at the firm and that they shouldn’t proceed without knowing,” Donaldson said. Donaldson acknowledged that part of the reason that the firm felt it was important to pass the information along was the fact that three of the eight associates laid off last month were first-years. Schnader Harrison has gone through a difficult period in the last 18 months. Its June 2000 merger with Mesirov Gelman Jaffe Cramer & Jamieson was troublesome, as five of the top revenue producers from Mesirov have since left the firm. The firm also saw its merger with 50-attorney Goldstein & Manello of Boston end after only three years when the Goldstein lawyers decided to go back out on their own last year. There has also been a stream of lateral departures from the corporate, labor and employment, and intellectual property practice groups to various other Philadelphia firms. With all of that said, Donaldson said she believes the firm has a strong strategic plan for the future that calls for enhancing its labor and employment and intellectual property practices — which were the most recent victims of lateral departures — and expanding the firm’s presence in other markets such as Pittsburgh and New York. She added that even though the firm lost some big names from the Mesirov deal, it retained several younger partners in transactional practices who have moved into leadership roles and thrived. Though Schnader Harrison’s vaunted litigation department has stayed virtually intact throughout all of the recent turmoil, Donaldson said the firm’s strategic plan does not include stripping itself down to its core competency and building back up. “We think we have a strong group of transactional lawyers — and not just in Philadelphia,” Donaldson said. “We just had elections for our executive committee and we now have two transactional lawyers that were elected. We feel pretty good about strengthening ourselves as we move forward.”

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