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Responding to continuing concerns about associate overcapacity, most of the city’s biggest law firms have slashed the size of their New York summer associate classes, some by more than half. A New York Law Journal survey of the city’s 25 largest law offices found that 15 had reduced the size of their 2003 summer classes. Twelve of the 15 cut class size by 20 percent or more, and seven reduced summer hiring for the second year in a row. Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy and Sullivan & Cromwell both led the pack by cutting their summer associate classes by 55 percent. Milbank will bring in 32 summer associates this year, down from 71 last year. Sullivan’s class is down to 50 from 110 a year earlier. Summer associate classes, generally made up of second-year law students, are large law firms’ primary source of new lawyers. The vast majority of summer associates receive offers at the end of the summer to join their firms full-time after they finish their third year of law school. Sullivan & Cromwell Chairman H. Rodgin Cohen said the firm was acting in accordance with a decision it made in 2001 not to lay off associates despite the slowdown in transactional practices. “If we have a large summer class in 2003 and then a large entering class in 2004, it’ll exacerbate a problem we’ve had where associates aren’t getting enough training and experience on the transactional side,” said Cohen. “We might have to do what we haven’t done and cut back from some of the other classes.” Many firms have shown considerable fluctuation in the size of their summer classes in recent years. Sullivan & Cromwell and Milbank both boosted their classes in 2002, by 4 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, which dropped its class size by 41 percent this year to 41 summer associates, had 72 summer associates last year, 160 percent more than in 2001. But a number of firms began reducing their summer classes last year. Sidley Austin Brown & Wood reduced its 2001 class of 73 New York summer associates to 40 in 2002, and cut another 23 percent to arrive at a class of 31 this year. Clifford Chance decreased its 2003 New York class by 47 percent to 21 summer associates, down from 39 in 2002, which was also down from 2001′s 52 summer associates. John K. Carroll, London-based Clifford Chance’s managing partner for the Americas, said firms were tracking what their Wall Street clients were doing. “At financial institutions, the headcount is way down,” he noted. With a New York office of about 450 lawyers, Clifford Chance is the 11th largest firm in the city. Its summer associate class of 21 is substantially smaller than that of any other firm of similar size. “There’s a really interesting examination going on at most major firms of what is the right-sized business,” said Carroll. “Certainly something we think about is whether we’re going to find in a smaller class a number of fourth- or fifth-year associates and maybe a handful of partners.” On the other hand, a smaller associate class size will most likely benefit the career prospects and training of incoming lawyers, he said, noting further that the quality of new recruits had improved markedly. Not all firms reduced their summer associate classes. Schulte Roth & Zabel hired 37 summer associates for 2003, up 42 percent from last year’s 26. Debevoise & Plimpton hired 25 percent more summer associates this year, boosting its class to 95 from 76. But many firms that increased hiring had cut their classes substantially already. Dewey Ballantine’s summer class of 63 this year is 34 percent larger than last year’s 47, but still smaller than 2001′s 79. Cravath, Swaine & Moore’s 84 summer associates for 2003 is up 31 percent from last year, just about even with 2001′s 82 summers. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison hired 83 summer associates this year, up from last year’s 58 but down slightly from 2001′s 87.

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