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When fresh-facesd summer associates arrive at law firms across the country in several months, will they find that the Free Lunch Express has run out of track? The economy is in shambles, prestigious law firms are sending associates and staffers packing right and left, and clients are railing against exorbitant legal fees and frivolous spending. Given the harsh climate, legal experts say it’s no time to throw lavish parties, plan flashy outings and eat the cost of pricey lunches in an attempt to woo summer associates. Law firms seem to be taking the hint. Although no firms have announced they are planning a no-frills and no-fun summer, the general consensus is that most will pare back the partying — and trim the price tag — of their summer programs. “We are moving forward with our program as planned, but I expect it will be less extravagant this year,” said Jerry Clements, chairwoman of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell. “That said, I think people are still going to be able to enjoy themselves.” There are a number of factors law firms must consider as they evaluate their summer programs, and cost is first and foremost, said Altman Weil principal Thomas Clay. But the appearance of an expensive summer program, both to people at the firm and to clients, is another consideration. “It looks bad to be spending money on these events when people at the firm have had to take a pay cut,” Clay said. “This year’s summer programs aren’t going to look like they have in the past. You can’t justify taking kids on a wine-tasting trip when you are laying off attorneys.” ‘All clerk’ weekend Amroh Idris will soon return to Vinson & Elkins for his second stint as a summer associate, but the University of Texas School of Law 2L isn’t expecting to be wined and dined the way he was last summer — when the firm foot the bill for an “all clerk” weekend at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin. “I would be surprised if we do that again,” said Idris, 24. “You would have to be completely ignorant or naïve not to anticipate that there isn’t going to be as much of a show this summer. Two-Ls are much more realistic this go-around, and we’re all very cognizant of the economy. We understand that nothing is guaranteed.” Of course, a socially subdued summer program is better for participants than the alternative, which is a cancelled summer program. A handful of firms have eliminated their 2009 summer associate programs in an attempt to cut costs and adjust for a projected falloff in demand for associates in the coming years. Dallas-based Winstead, San Diego-based Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, and Boston-based Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge are among the firms that pulled the plug on their 2009 summer associate programs. A more common approach by firms has been to trim several weeks off the length of summer programs. A shorter summer not only cuts down on salary costs for summers — who make around $3,000 a week at top firms — but it also reduces the cost of entertaining them. Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Reed Smith; Blank Rome; and Alston & Bird are just a few of the firms that have cut the length of their 2009 summer programs. Instead of spending a full three months at the firm, Dechert’s 81 incoming summer associates will be there 10 weeks, a spokeswoman confirmed. They also won’t be taking the annual firm-funded trip to London, which was eliminated to save money, the spokeswoman said. Many firms have also slashed the size of their summer associate classes. Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson will host about 35 summer associates this year, which is about half as many as last year, said David Hennes, the co-hiring partner in the firm’s New York office. While the reduced size of the class will save the firm money, the main reason for taking on fewer summer associates is the firm’s changing staffing needs, Hennes said. Attrition is low, and the firm does not anticipate needing as many new associates in the coming years as it has in the past, he said. The firm also is cutting the length of the summer program in New York from 12 to 10 weeks. “The goal is to give our summer associates the same experience as the previous summer classes have had,” Hennes said. “I will say that everybody is very focused on what is appropriate, as far as our clients and the industry right now.” There’s no doubt that law firm summer programs have a reputation for over-the-top social events and freebies. Organized trips to sporting events, boat rides, cocktail parties and daily lunches at top restaurants have traditionally been staples of summer programs at the largest firms, said legal consultant Joel A. Rose. In fact, some programs have focused more on socializing and bonding than performing substantive legal work, and all that fun comes at a price. “It’s very expensive,” Rose said. “When the economy was booming, firms felt like they needed to do these things to attract the best and the brightest. There’s a school of thought that the paradigm has changed — that corporate counsel are no longer willing to pay for these types of things. We will definitely see more conservative programs this summer.” Rose said law firms might also see more summer associates with their noses to the grindstone, trying hard to earn a job offer come fall. He noted that associate recruiting is a buyer’s market. No ‘sense of entitlement’ Idris, the 2L who is spending his summer at Houston-based Vinson & Elkins, said he and his law school classmates are preparing to work hard. “I think, in the past, summer associates have had a sense of entitlement — as long they didn’t do anything egregious and they put something down on paper, an offer was going to be waiting for them at the end of the summer,” he said. “No one is approaching this summer casually. Most students will be working hard and trying to make sure their work product is top-notch.” Not everyone thinks it would be a bad thing should parties take a back seat to working and learning about law firm life. Lauren Stiller Rikleen, a partner at Massachusetts law firm Bowditch & Dewey and executive director of The Bowditch Institute for Women’s Success, has been a vocal critic of the emphasis many law firm summer programs place on socializing. She would like to see the focus shift to performing meaningful legal work. “I’ve talked to a lot of law students about this, and I haven’t had too many people say [their law firm summer program] was a valuable learning opportunity,” Rikleen said. “A lot of them felt like there was too much social pressure and too much competition around that social pressure.” Rikleen said she has heard stories of summer associates pressured to go barhopping late into the night after firm-sponsored events, with the firm picking up the tabs along the way. If the economy is what forces firms to rethink their summer programs, that’s a positive step, she said. Not every firm is planning to strip the perks from their summer associate program, however. Scott Strohm, a partner and chairman of the search committee at Kansas City, Mo.-based Shook, Hardy & Bacon said few changes are under way for its summer program, save a slightly lower number of participants this year. Strohm said the firm will continue to host lunches and activities around the city for summer associates, though he said those events have never been lavish. “We still want them to go out and do things in the city, so they can see what Kansas City has to offer,” Strohm said. “It’s not without expense, but we think of it as our research and development cost. These are the folks who will be serving our clients in years to come.” But for other firms, dialing back the excesses of their summer programs is simply a move that the faltering economy demands. “I don’t think our summer associate program was ever lavish, but we are toning down some of the events,” said Morrison & Foerster Chairman Keith Wetmore. “Events that felt nice and, frankly, competitive last year would appear unseemly right now.”

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