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Texas’ largest firms exercised caution when hiring summer associates for 2003. For the second year in a row, most firms reduced the number of summer associates hired. Overall, firms that responded this year to Texas Lawyer‘s annual Summer Associates Survey reduced hiring numbers 15.6 percent compared to last year. The firms hired a total of 941 summer associates this year, compared to 1,115 in 2002. The survey also reveals that weekly salaries for summer associates at Big-Tex firms remain static, ranging from $1,450 at Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons up to $2,300 at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. (See related chart: Summer Associates at Large Texas Firms .) This year, 17 firms reduced the number of summer associates they hired, two firms hired the same amount as last year and five hired more. Kay Fletcher, assistant dean for career services at Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock, says law schools have noticed that hiring numbers are down, both for summer associates and associates. She advises students at Tech to keep their grades up, network within the legal community and be willing to explore all the options out there. “Maybe small town, small firm, or government opportunities will increase,” she says. Large metropolitan law schools such as Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas also report less hiring for summer associate positions this year, says Kelly Noblin, SMU Law’s assistant dean for career services. Her advice to students has been to piece together as many opportunities as possible to gain legal experience over the summer. Examples include volunteering to intern for judges, part-time employment with solo practitioners or working within a corporate legal department. “Our office has recently contacted legal departments of local corporations and several are in the process of hiring a student to assist their in-house attorneys,” Noblin says. Students gain experience and a small paycheck. The companies get relatively cheap labor to help with research or organizational projects that might have been put off by more pressing legal matters, she says. Unfortunately for students seeking a big-firm gig, Andrews & Kurth showed the largest decrease in summer associate hiring — 40.8 percent. The firm hired 29 summer associates this year compared to 49 in 2002. High acceptance rates in past years, last year’s merger with Mayor, Day, Caldwell & Keeton, and a slow economy contributed to the need for fewer clerks this summer, says Jeff Spiers, co-hiring partner of the 229-lawyer Houston-based firm. “For the last three years, we’ve had above-average acceptance rates,” he says. “We picked up half a class more than we planned on over the last three years.” Also, after a merger, it takes time to integrate two firms fully, he explains. The firm decided to decrease the size of the program so as not to detract from the integration process, he says. Finally, section heads at Andrews & Kurth were cautious when determining future hiring needs. Fewer summer associates this year likely means smaller associate classes in the fall of 2004. “The summer clerkship program is the first link in the chain for hiring expectations,” he says. “It’s the least painful place to adjust your population when you have future uncertainties. For us, it was part of a three-legged stool. It was probably the least important leg. The biggest factor [in reducing the number of summer associates] was the over-acceptance rates we’ve had [in the past], which is a good thing.” The survey reveals that Houston-based Vinson & Elkins saw the second largest decline in its summer program, going from 148 summer associates last year to 96 in 2003 — a 35.1 percent decrease. The 809-lawyer firm’s summer program has been a bit too large in past years, says Tom Leatherbury, chairman of the firm’s employment committee. He agrees with Spiers that lower numbers this summer are related to the struggling economy. “I think everybody whose numbers are down would say the economy had an effect on those numbers,” Leatherbury says. “I think many firms grew their programs very dramatically when the economy was hot,” Leatherbury says. “I want to guard against going too far the other way when the economy is down. I don’t think yo-yo hiring is a good practice.” Despite the economy, six of the state’s largest firms increased their hiring numbers this summer: Beirne, Maynard & Parsons; Godwin Gruber; Jones Day; Strasburger & Price; Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons; and Winstead, Sechrest & Minick. Dallas-based Winstead’s addition of 11 attorneys reflects a 39.3 percent increase in summer associate hiring. “Our firm was substantially larger when we were planning this year’s class compared to our size when we were planning last year’s class,” says Jeff Joyce, a shareholder and member of the firm’s employment committee. The firm has 327 attorneys. Late in the summer of 2001, Winstead merged with two firms — Dow, Cogburn & Friedman and Donohoe, Jameson & Carroll — which increased its attorney headcount, Joyce says. As a result, the summer associate program is keeping pace with the size of the firm, he says. In fact, the firm should have increased the number of summer associates hired in 2002, he says. Other reasons for increasing the number of summer associates include planned future growth, says Martin Beirne, managing partner of Houston-based Beirne, Maynard & Parsons, which has 70 attorneys. “We’re looking more toward the future,” he says, explaining the firm’s hiring of three more summer associates in 2003 compared to 2002. “As a result, we’re planning on adding additional brand-new lawyers into the firm, along with lateral hires, to allow us to grow from the bottom up.” Other firms added summer associates because they need the all the help they can get. “Lots of work differentiates us from some of our competitors,” says Jim Karen, hiring partner for Cleveland-based Jones Day. The firm has 1,991 attorneys in 25 locations and hired 46 summer associates for its Dallas and Houston offices this summer. “This is a very carefully and conservatively managed firm,” Karen says. “Due to the skill of the firm’s management and a lot of good luck, we seem to be in very good shape during tough economic times.” Although Dallas-based Godwin Gruber, with 130 attorneys, increased its summer associate ranks from three in 2002 to four this summer, that doesn’t mean the numbers will increase in future years, says the firm’s managing partner Mike Gruber. “Our basic philosophy is that there are very few people who are ready to practice law when they get out of school,” he says. “We find it much more effective to hire people after they’ve been out of law school for two to three years. … We really don’t want to expand our [summer associate] program any more.” Related chart: Summer Associates at Large Texas Firms

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