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Something will be missing from the trip to Yankee Stadium, the cocktail party and other outings at Newark, N.J.’s Gibbons Del Deo this summer: summer associates. The firm, which had nine summer interns last year, is forgoing its program, traditionally one of the largest in the state, as it directs its recruiting efforts away from entry-level lawyers and toward experienced laterals. “The goal is to have the firm hire more qualified attorneys,” says Mark Berman, a hiring partner. Better to cancel the summer program than to disappoint potential candidates for full-time positions that are not being planned, the firm reasons. It’s not a cost-saving exercise, Berman says. The $300,000 or so that would have been spent on the summer program will be diverted to the recruitment of laterals and benefits for current associates, including bonuses. And expenditures on the usual array of summer social activities will continue, but the events will be for the full-timers, Berman says. Gibbons Del Deo is the second firm in New Jersey to scrap a longstanding formal summer program, and the trailblazer two years ago, Middletown’s Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla, offered a similar we’re-looking-for-laterals explanation. But 160-lawyer Gibbons Del Deo has four times as many attorneys, and its decision is causing a buzz among recruiters at other large firms. None of them is emulating Gibbons Del Deo. Indeed, the 105-member class of 2003 at the other 17 largest firms matches the class of 2002 at those firms, a reflection of the flat expectations about the demand for legal services next summer when the current crop of second-year students lands in the full-time market. The numbers also reflect most recruiters’ adherence to the idea that larger firms cannot function without at least some fresh, inexperienced lawyers and that they need to be looked over in advance. “The primary benefit is you get to know those who are likely to join the firm,” says Robert Max Crane, hiring partner at Newark’s Sills Cummis Radin Tischman Epstein & Gross. “There is no substitute for seeing somebody actually working.” Sills Cummis, which is doubling its 2L contingent to eight this year, is one of 11 firms that will have programs as large or larger than last year’s. FIRST-YEARS STILL HAVE VALUE Having a program is necessary if there is enough work. A mania for laterals does not exclude the need for first-year associates. Corporate clients understand that staffing with first-year associates may be necessary in some cases, particularly when it comes to due diligence in corporate matters or discovery, he says. “It’s not a problem if you have enough work,” he says. Yes, it can be costly, “but I think the benefits outweigh the downside,” he concludes. Lawyers at other firms are reluctant to make direct comment about Gibbons Del Deo’s decision, but the consensus seems to be that abandoning the summer program sends a signal that the firm is retrenching. If that is not the case, paring the program drastically to, say, two or three associates, would have been better for public relations, five people involved in hiring at other firms say. Newark’s Carpenter, Bennett & Morrissey has such a program. It has had no more than three 2Ls for each of the past three summers, which is consistent with a firm of about 70 lawyers. Having a small program allows for better integration between the interns’ work and the work of the firm, says hiring partner Stephen Payerle. Other firms have cut their programs without abandoning them. Morristown’s Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch, for example cut its program to six 2Ls last year, down from a survey-high of 17 just two years ago, and has six again this year. A couple of other professionals suggest, though, that Gibbons Del Deo did the right thing by taking an all-or-nothing approach, rather than bringing in only a couple of students for a desultory summer just to say it had a program. It’s a bold step, but other firms have contemplated it, too, judging from a National Association of Law Placement online survey last year. It reported that 43.8 percent of responding firms said they downsized their programs and 11 percent said they were thinking of eliminating summer internships. Berman says he started thinking of elimination a year ago when the firm was being flooded with applications by experienced laterals — just the kind of lawyers who could jump in and be productive at a litigation-intensive firm like Gibbons Del Deo. Like other New Jersey firms, Gibbons Del Deo had suffered from the magnetism of high-paying New York firms that drew off the kind of candidates New Jersey firms craved. “Everyone who could, went to New York,” Berman says. Hiring partners at other firms say, though, that the summer associate pool is good this year, though it seems heavily weighted with students from New Jersey schools. All three Carpenter Bennett interns are from Rutgers Law School-Newark and Seton Hall University School of Law. Most of Sills Cummis’ class is homegrown, though it also has students from Emory University School of Law, University of Connecticut School of Law and Villanova University School of Law. Most of Lowenstein Sandler’s survey-high of 14 associates are from New Jersey schools, and it also has students from Harvard Law School, George Washington University Law School and New York University School of Law. Newark’s McCarter & English and the Florham Park outpost of Philadelphia’s Drinker, Biddle & Reath, formerly Shanley & Fisher, are the only other firms with 10 or more 2Ls. Lowenstein Sandler boosted its weekly salary by $300 to $2,100, the highest in the state, to be comparable with firms in New York. “We keep an eye on the competition,” says hiring partner James Stewart. Lowenstein Sandler and Pitney Hardin were trailblazers in 2000 when they brought in large numbers of first-year students, five at Lowenstein Sandler and seven at Pitney Hardin. They were operating on the theory that those brilliant 1Ls, after seeing life in Wall Street firms as 2Ls, would come back to New Jersey for permanent positions. “It didn’t work out,” Stewart says. The 1Ls left with tremendous good will but it did not translate into a desire to return two years later as first-year associates, he says. The numbers show most firms agree. There are 10 first-year students at the firms this year, down from a high of 28 in 2000.

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