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The ailing economy has led some firms to lay off associates and trim summer and first-year classes, but as a result of that tight job market, legal recruiters are reporting that more temporary lawyers are getting hired on a permanent basis. According to consultant Sandra Mannix, of Philadelphia-based Abelson Legal Search, firms are choosing to test the waters with potential associates first rather than bring them on board right away. “Because of the somewhat iffy economic market, where law firms may have in the past said, ‘If we need someone, let’s hire them. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out … .’ [They now] realize that can be a very expensive proposition,” Mannix said. Robert Nourian, a principal with Rosemont, Pa.-based Coleman Counsel Per Diem, said firms do not want to be hasty in bringing on more attorneys than they can support, so they may use contract lawyers until they are sure their caseloads will remain stable. “Firms are more cautious in uncertain economic climates about making permanent commitments from the outset,” Nourian said. “There’s some element of, Let’s try this person, make sure it’s a good fit before we make the commitment.’ “And then there’s another portion that’s, ‘Let’s make sure our work continues at the same level we expect it to before we make the commitment.’” Nourian said another common phenomenon when economic times are tough is for corporate legal departments to use contract attorneys because of companywide hiring freezes. After the freezes end, there is a “fair chance” that many temporary lawyers will be made permanent. Though in past years there may have been a stigma attached to temping, today it is largely a respectable field, Mannix said. “There was in the past perhaps some image about the kinds of lawyers who became temps, and I think people are realizing that’s a stereotype that isn’t true,” she said. “There are very good lawyers. … More often than not, they are people who have very, very strong credentials. They are the kinds of people the law firm would normally hire.” Nourian said negative perceptions of contract attorneys might be ebbing because many highly qualified, highly skilled lawyers have been laid off during the current economic downturn. “Years ago, there may have been a hint of suspicion as to why someone may have been doing contract work,” he said. “In my view, there are very few people that would automatically be suspicious these days just based on the economy and the fact that a lot of good people may be out of work and are out of work. The more accepted using contract attorneys becomes, any hints of suspicion from years ago will dissipate even further.” William Kiniry, managing partner at Washington, D.C.-based Piper Rudnick, said his firm has a few full-time attorneys who have started out as contract employees. Hiring the best of its temporary lawyers has not been a “planned business strategy” for the firm; rather, it’s been more a matter of convenience and opportunity. “The name of the game as far as we are concerned is having the best people,” Kiniry said. “It’s not always the case that the best people are available to you 100 percent of the time. For the right person, the law firm will reach.” In this employer-driven market, Nourian said, a contract attorney hoping to get brought on board will have to show a firm that he or she would be a good match for the firm in every respect, not just skillwise. “Attitude and performance are the two big things they should focus on,” Nourian said. “You have to do good work, and you have to fit in to the culture of the organization. The days are gone where firms were hiring people just because they needed the bodies to get the work done.” Kiniry said lawyers looking to parlay a contract assignment into a full-time job should follow the same strategy as any attorney trying to advance his or her career. “Make yourself indispensable,” he said. “Make yourself an expert in appropriate areas of the law because, make no mistake about it, despite their words, partners vote with their feet.” When deciding on hiring issues, Kiniry maintains, partners look to see “where is the carpet worn.” Piper Rudnick associate Emma Karabell knows firsthand what it takes to make it from contract lawyer to full-time employee. After temping for other firms for several years, she started on a contrast basis for Piper Rudnick last April. After a few months, the firm brought her on as a part-time employee. Then, in January, she was hired on as a full-time associate. “I tried to be as flexible as I could,” Karabell said. “If that meant long hours, I worked the long hours. If that meant being available on a Saturday, I was available on a Saturday. If that meant being able to travel on fairly short notice, I did that as well. In addition, I was probably a little more aggressive with regard to seeking out assignments, proactive in that sense. I tried to get my name out and to show the quality of my work. “Be creative,” she advised others hoping to make the leap from contract worker to associate. “Don’t wait for opportunity to come knocking at your door. You go out there and you introduce yourself to the partners, to senior associates Volunteer for assignments, even if it means stepping out of what you’re currently doing.”

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