Summer associates, break out your bowling shoes.

Vinson & Elkins traditionally pays for all of its summer associates to spend a weekend together at a fancy hotel in Austin or Houston, but in today’s austere times, the firm cut the weekend junket and will get to know the associates through activities such as a crawfish boil, bowling, working lunches in the office and food bank volunteer events.

V&E hiring partner Thomas Leatherbury of Dallas says the social events are smaller and more informal this year, when the firm has 120 summer associates compared to 119 last year. “Those are the most effective recruiting events anyway,” he says.

The days of extravagant summer programs featuring meals at pricey restaurants, dinner cruises, suites at sporting events and weekends out of town seem to be over for now, with large Texas firms scaling back on the summer social events as well as the size of the summer programs. Both cuts save the firms money.

Most of Texas’ 26 largest firms hired fewer summer associates this year than in 2008, according to Texas Lawyer ‘s 2009 Summer Associate Survey. Twenty-four of the 26 largest firms in Texas participated in the survey. Austin-based Brown McCarroll declines to provide information. One firm, Dallas-based Winstead, canceled its 2009 summer associate program.

The 24 firms offered 27 percent fewer summer associate positions this year compared to 2008. Firms made those offers in the fall of 2008. [See related charts: "Summer Associates at Large Texas Firms," " Women and Minority Summer Associates" and "Summer Associates' Law Schools." ]

Most Texas firms, like others nationwide, have smaller 2009 summer associate classes because the firms anticipate needing fewer first-year associates in 2010, says legal consultant Peter D. Zeughauser with the Zeughauser Group in Newport, Calif.

“It probably also reflects a view that there is not going to be an obvious [economic] recovery,” he says. He points out that firms already have a group of first-year associates arriving in the fall of 2009, some with start dates that the firms have deferred to the beginning of 2010, and firms are worried about having enough business for another crop of first-year associates in the fall of 2010.

Zeughauser says he is not surprised that firms are reducing summer entertainment expenses. “I think the times call for less extravagance,” he says. Zeughauser says summer associates don’t really care this year whether firms have lavish social events. “I can tell you they are happy to have offers and jobs,” he says.

Haynes and Boone hiring partner Thomas Yang says his firm intentionally recruited fewer 2009 summer associates during this slow economy, knowing that the firm would likely hire fewer first-year associates for 2010. “We anticipated that we would need a few less people,” he says. The firm has 56 summer associates this year, down 21 percent from the 71 summer associates in 2008.

At Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, Kitty O’Connell Henry, a Dallas shareholder who is co-chairwoman of the firm’s law school hiring program, says her firm typically has eight summer associates. This year the firm has hired five, half as many as the 10 employed by the firm during the summer of 2008.

“We’ve had bigger than eight, and we’ve had smaller,” she says. The decision to recruit fewer summer associates this year was driven by a slowing economy and the firm’s desire to be able to make fulltime offers to all its summer associates. “To have this smaller class does give us a greater chance to make the offers we’d like to make,” she says.

V&E is not the only firm planning to spend less money on wining and dining summer associates this year; hiring partners and recruiting directors at 12 of the 24 firms say it’s going to be a summer of low-key, informal, cost-effective events. At Fort Worth’s Kelly Hart & Hallman, for instance, last year’s cocktail parties largely are replaced by events such as scavenger hunts, bowling, and miniature golf and laser tag tournaments. At Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell, last year’s trips to the Lakeway Resort and to Galveston are gone; summer associates this year will have the opportunity to participate in volunteer events along with some tried-and-true activities such as baseball games and parties.

“Your program ought to reflect the general economy and mood,” says Angela Fontana, the hiring partner in the Dallas office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. “We are doing some low-key dinners-and-drinks kind of things. We will still have one or two parties. We are doing things in smaller groups to allow people to have more conversation time.”

Munsch Hardt’s Henry says, “We’ve cut back on a few things.”

In prior years, Munsch Hardt has hosted a summer associates’ outing to Lone Star Park, a thoroughbred racetrack in Grand Prairie. But this year the 100-lawyer Dallas-based firm has eliminated ticketed events, Henry says.

Munsch Hardt plans to continue with some of its traditional summer events, such as inviting students to “Bar None,” the Dallas Bar Association’s annual gridiron show and fundraiser. “We’re doing things that are not necessarily big-time expensive things but consistent with who we are,” Henry says. The firm’s summer associates will also be invited to spend an evening with firm lawyers cooking dinner and serving families at the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas, one of the charities regularly supported by Munsch Hardt, she says.

This year, the firm is asking its lawyers to adhere to slightly lower budgeted expenses for summer associates’ meals, such as limiting lunches to $18 per person rather than $22, Henry says.

The firm also is focusing more on small, informal group dinners — what Henry describes as “shorts and sundress events” — hosted at shareholders’ homes. For example, the firm had an end-of-the summer party in 2008 at the Empire Room in downtown Dallas. This year the party will be held at one of the shareholder’s homes with a beautiful backyard.

“It’s the same conceptual event — a fun, festive event — at less overhead cost than at a downtown venue,” she says.

Henry’s comments mirror those of hiring partners and recruiters at 12of Texas’ largest firms. The firms want to impress the summer associates because they will hire their first-year associates for the fall of 2010 from this year’s pool of summer associates.

Nevertheless, summer associate programs are still expensive, with a majority of the 24 firms in the survey paying more than $3,000 a week, plus housing and travel expenses.

Heather Creed, assistant dean of professional development and student relations at Baylor University School of Law in Waco, says students with summer associate positions are not expecting extravagance this summer. “I think they are thankful that they have what jobs they have,” Creed says. Yet despite smaller budgets, Texas firms are offering their 2009 summer associates an assortment of entertainment and social opportunities to give the students schmoozing opportunities with firm lawyers and a chance to get a feel for firm culture.

Traditions

A tradition at Houston-based Baker Botts is taking summer associates to a Houston Astros game, but this year the firm is spending less money by buying a block of tickets instead of renting a party suite, says Cristina E. Rodriguez, the hiring partner in the firm’s Houston office. Unlike previous summers, the Houston office will not host an elegant dinner party for summer associates and their partner advisers at one of the city’s fancy restaurants. “This year we expect the partners to develop a relationship with the summer associates without the formal dinner,” Rodriguez says.

As in previous years, members of the firm’s employment committee will invite small groups of summer associates and firm lawyers to their homes for casual dinners, she says. The firm kept a decade-long tradition of treating the summer associates to a bus tour of the city’s historic districts narrated by Stephen Fox, an architectural historian and lecturer at Rice University in Houston, Rodriguez says.

The 766-lawyer firm has hired 82 summer associates for its Texas offices compared to 124 last year. “Our decrease in headcount was a very deliberate decision to best position ourselves to acquire the talent out of our summer program,” she says. As in previous years, summer associates will be at the firm for a minimum of six and a maximum of 10 weeks. Students who were summer associates last year after completing their first year of law school also are expected to return for four weeks this summer.

The firm also involves summer associates in public service activities with firm lawyers such as working at the Houston Zoo or the Houston Food Bank, she says.

The social aspect of the summer program at Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell has been scaled down as well, says Clint Schumacher, a partner in Dallas who is the firm’s hiring partner. Schumacher says the 37 summer associates, down from 68 in 2008, who can work up to eight weeks in the Texas offices, will have an opportunity to participate in some community work. The Dallas office is working with the Interfaith Housing Coalition, the Houston office is doing a project with the Anti-Defamation League and in Austin, summer associates can volunteer at a legal clinic.

“We have a chance to get together, and it’s our hope they get to see we have heart,” he says.

Public interest work also is part of the summer program at Jackson Walker, which has 24 summer associates, compared to 22 last year, on board this year in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. Kim DiLallo, director of recruiting and professional development, says recruiters in each office planned a pro bono event, including working on a Dallas Habitat for Humanity house. The firm scaled back on some social events, compared to last year, eliminating wine-and-cheese tasting events and a casino party, but the firm will still do baseball game outings, burgers at a partner’s house and some in-office events, she says. Also, every other Friday, lawyers in the four offices will take summer associates to lunch at local “dive” restaurants, events inspired by the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” program. Other outings include a karaoke party in Houston, she says.

Weil, Gotshal has 25 summer associates in Texas this summer, down from 39 in 2008. Because many aren’t from Texas, the Dallas office, for instance, has a couple of drinks-and-dinner outings planned to show them interesting areas of Dallas — The Bishop Arts District and the Knox-Henderson neighborhood, says Fontana, the Dallas hiring partner. “You kind of want to showcase your city,” she says.

Fontana says this year the firm reduced the number of parties in favor of smaller events.

Kelly Hart also plans outings designed to show Fort Worth to the summer associates, says partner Dana Stayton, chairwoman of the recruiting committee.

Alan Marcuis, hiring partner in Texas for Hunton & Williams, says the firm saw the writing on the wall and spent less in 2008 on summer associate social events than the year before, and it plans a similar program this summer. The firm has five summer associates, the same number as in 2008, and the focus is on evaluating them as future colleagues and providing them with meaningful work and experience over the eight-week program, he says.

However, the firm plans intimate dinners at attorneys’ homes and some modest events, such as a cooking class at a Central Market grocery store.

Where’s the Beef?

The Hamburger Man, a traveling grilling service, provided the eats at Victory Park on May 18 when Haynes and Boone had its kick-off dinner for summer associates in its Dallas office. Social interaction among lawyers and summer associates is a critical component in successful recruiting, but this year the firm has moved many of its events from restaurants and hotel meeting spaces to the firm’s offices or its lawyers’ homes, says Yang, the hiring partner at the 520-lawyer firm. Haynes and Boone, based in Dallas, has 56 summer associates, down from 71 in 2008, working six to nine weeks in its Texas offices, he says.

“The Hamburger Man showed up at the park outside our building, rolling the grill up in a trailer,” he says. “The expense was lower than having a dinner at a restaurant and in some ways showed up the benefits of our building on Victory [Avenue]. It’s not often that you have a park outside your office,” he says. Last year, the firm held the summer associate kick-off dinner at the Iron Cactus in downtown Dallas, but this year’s event was significantly less expensive, he says.

Haynes and Boone summer associate Tabitha Thomas says The Hamburger Man picnic dinner was great. Thomas, who just finished her second year at Vanderbilt University Law School, says she grew up in Conway, a small Arkansas city, and appreciated the relaxing, informal atmosphere of mingling with students and lawyers while enjoying hamburgers and hot dogs. “I was raised in the south,” she says. “I love a good hamburger and a cookout as much as a nice dinner,” she says. She says that such casual events will help her attain her goal of getting a feel for the firm’s culture and the relationships between the firm’s employees. “Oftentimes you spend more time with your colleagues in the office than with your family at home,” she says. Working at the firm “has to feel like home.”

Evelyn Breithaupt, a summer associate with Baker Botts in Houston, says she too prefers less firm emphasis on fancy social events. “My understanding from talking to friends is that basically every firm has cut down on social events this year,” says the Harvard Law School student who just finished her second year. “I’m relieved to get a more realistic view of what it’s like to work here.”

Breithaupt says she prefers that there be just a couple of social events each week where she can get to know the firm’s attorneys. During her 10 weeks with the firm, Breithaupt says, she wants to see how the Baker Botts lawyers interact with each other and how they manage their time. “I want to observe whether people are interested in their work, whether they are satisfied, and whether it’s a good fit for me,” she says.

The Numbers

Overall, the firms have 27 percent fewer students on board this summer, just 683 compared to the 930 positions available at the same firms in 2008. Firm leaders predicted the smaller summer associate classes when they were recruiting the students in the fall of 2008 when the economy was faltering. [See "Some Firms Scale Back Summer Programs in Tough Economy," Texas Lawyer, Oct. 27, 2008, page 1.]

At four of the large firms, the summer associate headcount is close to what it was in 2008. At Jackson Walker, where there are two more summer associates than last year, DiLallo says the number is up because of a “higher yield of acceptance.” Leatherbury, the V&E hiring partner, says his firm had robust acceptance too, but V&E expects to do a lot of hiring for the fall of 2010 and “we think we are going to hit it right.” Clark, Thomas & Winters and Hunton & Williams’ 2009 Texas summer associate classes match the size of their 2008 classes.

Austin-based Clark, Thomas hired six summer associates this year. Although the class size is consistent with 2008, the firm has shortened the summer session from six to four weeks during which the summer associates rotate through the firm’s practice areas, says Jay Breedveld, an Austin shareholder and chairman of the firm’s recruitment committee. “In the past, we did a mock trial exercise that usually took up the first two weeks,” he says. “We just felt like we would get more out of the value of the clerkship program if we concentrated on substantive work and skipped the mock trial exercise.”

He notes that lunches are a big part of the firm’s social program, especially for one-on-one interaction between lawyers and summer associates. An event from past summers that the 114-lawyer firm is not repeating is an evening cruise on Lady Bird Johnson Lake in Austin to watch bats in their nightly flight from their nests under the bridges spanning the lake. “Everybody is reacting to the market, and summer clerkships are no different,” he says.

Despite economic concerns, the majority of the large firms in the survey continue to pay summer associates a weekly salary exceeding $3,077.

But, at Dallas-based Gardere Wynne Sewell, summer associates are receiving less money this year — $2,693 for each of the six weeks worked instead of the $3,077 weekly pay summer associates received in 2008. The lower summer associate pay is consistent with the announcement the 265-lawyer firm made recently that reduced first-year associate salaries from a $160,000 base to $145,000 annually as of May 1. [See "Inadmissible," Texas Lawyer, May 18, 2009, page 3.]

The summer associates will rotate between the firm’s transactional and litigation practices, unless they have a strong preference to stay in one area for the entire summer, says Carrie B. Hoffman, hiring partner in the Dallas office. Many of the firm’s summer events are small get-togethers, she says. “During the last five or six years we have focused on smaller, in-home dinner events, and even more so this year because of the economy,” Hoffman says.

One Gardere tradition that continues this summer is inviting summer associates to the HP Byron Nelson Championship golf tournament held at the Four Seasons Resort at Las Colinas in Irving. “It is a social and sporting event,” Hoffman says. “We have our own tent there. We do it every year.”