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It’s not a garden party in the Garden State legal community this summer, any more than it was last summer or the one before. Clerkships at New Jersey’s largest firms are on a four-year decline. Recruiters are discriminating, extending offers to only about one in four interviewees. Some firms have trimmed their programs to welterweight size. Others have scotched them entirely. The 20 firms studied hired 121 associates this summer, down from 126 last year. It’s a slight dip, but demonstrably lower than the 166 summer clerks employed in 2001. Nine of the firms increased summer associate hiring this year over last, but five firms cut back and five made no change. Carpenter, Bennett & Morrissey in Newark froze all hires in anticipation of its impending merger with McElroy, Deutsch & Mulvaney in Morristown. Compensation stayed virtually flat. Associates with two years of law school under their belt earned an average $1,783 per week, compared with $1,771 last year. More ominously, the prospects of summer clerks being called back with permanent offers are measurably lower than the national and regional norms. A recent National Association for Law Placement study said 77 percent of 2003 summer associates at New Jersey firms were offered a job by the same firm after graduation, compared with 87 percent nationwide, 96 percent in New York City and 94 percent in Philadelphia. Some firms are blunt about not holding out hope for future commitment. DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Wisler, for instance, tells summer associates flat out that they should not expect to be hired after graduation. The Teaneck firm sees its program less as a proving ground for future associates than as a source of extra hands in the summer months. “It’s not that we say no one gets hired,” says Jeffrey Smith, the partner overseeing the program. “We certainly tell people during interviews that we do not bring back the majority of our summer hires.” “It’s no longer a lock,” adds Stephen Ball, director of career services at Rutgers Law School-Camden. WHY THE CHANGE? The state of the economy has some bearing, but the main reason for slimmer summer programs appears to be that they no longer serve as a farm system for new talent. Firms today are more receptive to the notion that the money and effort spent on summer programs — and on training the recruits given permanent offers — might be better applied to lateral hiring. “The argument is generally that we find our clients are more demanding of attorneys with more experience; therefore, they would rather hire more midlevel to senior lawyers than entry-level lawyers,” says Robert Max Crane, hiring partner at Newark’s Sills, Cummis, Epstein & Gross. “The rebuttal is yes, but the entry-level lawyers today become tomorrow’s midlevel lawyers.” The issue did not come to a head — Sills hired eight clerks, same as last year — but other firms have already taken the plunge. Middletown’s Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla eliminated its summer associate program in 2001. Newark’s Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione followed in 2003 and repeated this year. The programs that persist are highly selective. According to the NALP study, New Jersey law firms offer summer positions to 27 percent of those candidates invited in for an interview, compared with 39 percent of candidates who get interviewed in Philadelphia, 53 percent nationwide and 60 percent in New York. Hiring officials say there was no conscious strategy to whittle down. Budd Larner Rosenbaum Greenberg & Sade dropped to three clerks simply because last year’s class of seven was unusually large, says Karen Eisen, the Short Hills firm’s director of recruiting. At Drinker Biddle & Reath in Florham Park, this year’s shrinkage to five associates from last year’s 10 was based on a miscalculation of how many invitees would accept. “We made a bunch of offers to talented people,” says hiring partner Michael Adelman. “This process is an art, not a science.” At Connell Foley in Roseland, where the summer program grew from four students last year to six this year, the firm sees a need for both newly minted associates and recruits who come in with a few years’ experience, according to hiring partner Daren McNally. There are some sorts of work that are well-suited to each group, McNally says. “I think we see the merits in both new, homegrown associates who have come through the system as well as experienced associates who come in as laterals,” says McNally. At Porzio, Bromberg & Newman in Morristown, the 10-member summer class is up from six in 2003, with a view toward warming up post-graduation offers. “It takes a lot of effort, but we do think it’s worthwhile — it’s a great opportunity to raise your profile with the law schools,” says managing partner D. Jeffrey Campbell. But he says the firm also resorts to lateral recruiting when it needs an attorney with a specific skill set. For firms that have put summer recruiting on the back burner, the acid test is whether lateral hiring will be sufficient to draw the talent needed. “They don’t have associates with one, two, three years’ experience, and that’s the gap they’re trying to fill now. That is their focus,” says Rutgers-Camden career services director Ball. “They need people with a little bit of experience to do the work.” The class of first-year associates arriving at Gibbons, Del Deo in September is the first one that the firm recruited since dissolution of its summer program. The progress of that group of five, consisting of three federal law clerks, one state law clerk and one directly out of law school at Cornell, will indicate whether the firm’s new strategy is working, says hiring partner Mark Berman. “Our real question is whether we’re able to attract more experienced associates, and if the class starting in the fall is any indication, we are,” he says. One thing that’s clear is that summer jobs are still very much in demand, and New Jersey firms have a better-than-average record of getting the interns they want. The NALP report said that of all summer associate job offers extended by law firms, 38 percent are accepted in New Jersey, compared with 31 percent nationwide, 23 percent in New York and 37 percent in Philadelphia. Local firms report near-universal acceptance of their job offers to former summer associates. As Carole Mecca, Porzio Bromberg’s director of attorney services puts it, “Once they’ve been part of our summer program, it’s really not hard to convince them to join us.”

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