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New Jersey’s largest firms are offering full-time jobs to this year’s summer associates at a rate of 87 percent. Hiring partners and coordinators say it’s a sign that this year’s crop worked hard and that the firms made accurate estimates of their entry-level lawyer needs for 2006. At the 18 big firms that have decided on offers to summer associates, 97 of the 110 eligible students were picked. The student-to-offer ratio might have been even higher but some firms don’t bother inviting students who know they will be heading to judicial clerkships. More than 20 summer associates were in limbo last week, as Newark’s McCarter & English and Lawrenceville’s Stark & Stark were still deciding how many offers to make. McCarter & English has a class of 20 first-year associates starting this month, one of the firm’s largest influxes, and it is affecting the thinking about how many fledgling lawyers will be needed in 2006. “I think the market being what it is and the size of our class entering this year, we’re in a position to be slightly selective if we want to be and we’re deciding how selective we want to be,” says managing partner Andrew Berry. Indeed, the firm isn’t expected to decide before Sept. 15, the traditional recruiting deadline. Under guidelines of the National Association for Legal Placement, firms that make offers before Sept. 15 keep the offers on the table until Nov. 1. Students who receive offers after Sept. 15 have until Dec. 1 to decide, and most firms don’t like to wait that long to know if a coveted candidate is coming. When it comes to listing McCarter & English’s offers, “I think by the 15th we are probably going to still be an asterisk,” Berry says. Stark & Stark’s summer program is not the tryout camp for full timers as it is at many other firms, and the firm’s decisions about hiring aren’t likely to be firm until job seekers among judicial clerks in the area are considered. Elsewhere, the rate of offers seems to have validated hiring partners’ judgments in 2004 about who would make a 2005 summer associate worth having as a fledgling lawyer in 2006. Eight firms offered jobs to every summer intern; seven turned thumbs down on only one and three declined to make offers to two clerks. For the second year, Newark’s Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione had no summer program, sticking to a plan to grow by hiring laterals. Like most firms, Roseland’s Lowenstein Sandler is conservative about sizing its summer classes so its decisions about who to bring in can be more about merit, less about need. The number of summer associates doesn’t match that of incoming lawyers, since many first-year associates come from judicial clerkships. This year, for example, the firm offered jobs in 2006 to nine of its 11 clerks, yet the first-year-associate class starting this month is 16. “We size our summer class to anticipate our needs, hoping all of them get offers and all of them accept,” hiring partner James Stewart says. For those summer clerks who do accept Lowenstein’s offer this year, the pay will be more handsome than it is for the current first-year associates. Starting in 2006, the firm will pay $115,000 for entry-level lawyers, up from $95,000 in 2004 and $100,000 this year. The higher salary will put the firm in the $110,000-plus stratosphere with New Jersey outposts of national firms like Pittsburgh’s Reed Smith, Philadelphia’s Drinker Biddle and Boston’s Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham. “There are a couple of national firms whose New Jersey offices may be a little bit higher than $115,000, but we think it puts us close to them and equivalent to what the Philly firms are paying,” he says. Stewart says the firm is careful not to hire masses for hot areas and then resort to layoffs when areas cool down. “We tend to avoid that and keep our attorney population steady,” Stewart says. New associates tend to be assigned to corporate work, commercial litigation and the firm’s technology group. Those areas are also particularly active at Newark’s Sills Cummis Epstein & Gross, says hiring partner Robert Crane. He adds that the firm is bringing six new associates into the firm this month and made offers to all six summer clerks. “The markets have turned. There is a lot more corporate activity,” Crane says. Assignments for first-year associates tend to be a matter of fitting newcomers with practice groups they like and partners who like them. “It reminds me of the old college story, ‘it’s better to have a good professor teaching a lousy subject than a lousy professor teaching a good subject.’” Even so, there are no guarantees, and most summer associates understand that “it is a rewarding and challenging business but that it is a business,” he says. Michael Adelman, the hiring partner for Drinker Biddle’s New Jersey offices, says all four summer associates received offers. Adelman says Drinker Biddle pays $110,000 a year for first-year associates. “I believe that it helps” when it comes to getting candidates to accept offers. “Many candidates we are interviewing for this office are also interviewing in Manhattan. We feel we are competing for those candidates and offer what we believe is a very competitive salary.” Among home-grown firms like Connell Foley in Roseland, strong demand continues for litigation and real estate transactional work and the land use, development, environmental and zoning work that goes with it, says hiring partner Stephen Falanga. At Haddonfield’s Archer & Greiner, hiring partner Steven Mignogna suggests that regional firms like his whose salaries are lower than those at national partnerships nearby can compete for associates because the firm does good work and associates like the culture. Many of the newcomers are New Jersey residents who went to the state’s three schools, though Boston University School of Law and Villanova University School of Law also were represented this summer. At Archer & Greiner, the starting salary of $85,000 a year is $20,000 less than the typical large Philadelphia firm across the Delaware River. “The math is the math but all five summer associates last year accepted offers and are among the class of 10 starting this year,” Mignogna says. All seven summer associates this year received offers and some have already accepted, he says. At Reed Smith, the managing partner in the Princeton office, Steven Picco, says the number of quality candidates allows his firm to populate summer programs with students who offer something extra. “In our interviewing process we have changed our focus away from pure academic achievement to some indication that they have a more than tenuous connection with the real world,” he says. “I’m talking about the ability to talk to people, to relate to people. We found that to be as much a predictor of success as academic achievement.” With a high-for-New Jersey pay, Reed Smith gets plenty of candidates with good academics and writing skills, too, Picco says. Starting pay is $115,000 plus a $7,500 stipend so the first years don’t have to work during the summer before they start. Summer associates earned $2,235 a week, the state’s highest salary. At the other end of the spectrum is Stark & Stark, which paid $650 a week this summer and pays new full timers $70,000. Says managing partner John Sakson IV, “I say to these kids, ‘if you can get a $95,000 a year job, take it.’” But if they like working in a place where they can live seven minutes away and do good work, they have a reason to consider the firm, he says. He likes to recruit people who have had experiences elsewhere. “Then they realize what a great place this is,” he says.

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