The summer associate class at Baker Botts in Texasis smaller this year than it was in 2009, and summer associate Rocio Mendoza says that’s OK with her. Mendoza is coming back for a second summer at the Houston-based firm.
“Baker Botts has done a good job about being conservative with summer hiring and spelling out what they are looking for,” says Mendoza, a student at the University of Texas School of Law. “We are a total of 27 [students in Houston] this year,” she says. “Obviously, no one has a crystal ball about how things will end up, but you feel a lot better as a student coming in with that number than being one of 80.”
Baker Botts has hired 51 summer associates for its Texas offices, which is 37.8 percent fewer than the 82 summer associates the firm brought in to Texas offices during 2009. It has the second-largest summer associate class among the Lone Star State’s largest firms.
“We’re definitely wanting to make sure we stay aligned with our needs,” says Cristina Rodriguez of Houston, hiring partner for the firm, which has 470 lawyers in Texas and 724 firmwide. [See "Cooler Summer Ahead," Texas Lawyer, Sept. 7, 2009, page 1.]
Most of the state’s largest firms are staying aligned with their business needs by bringing in fewer summer associates for 2010.
Firms try to match the size of their summer associate classes with expected short-term client needs. Most summer associates have completed two years of law school and were recruited by the firms in the early fall of 2009, during the throes of the recession. The second-year summer associates represent the pool of young lawyers from which the firms will hire their permanent associates for the fall of 2011. The number of summer associates hired is an indicator of firms’ growth expectations.
Of the 26 largest firms in the Lone Star State — as determined by Texas lawyer count and as listed on “The Texas 100″ chart published April 26 — 22 participated in Texas Lawyer ‘s Summer Associate Hiring Survey. Three of the largest firms declined to participate in the survey: Clark, Thomas & Winters; Gardere Wynne Sewell; and Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons. Brown McCarroll does not have a 2010 summer associate class. The firm has not had a summer associate class for several years, instead preferring to grow with lateral hires, says the firm’s chief operating officer Julie Bagby.
In light of the economic upheaval of the past year, the results of the survey are not surprising: Nineteen of the 22 firms have smaller summer associate classes in Texas for 2010 than the same firms had here in 2009. Overall, the 22 firms have 433 summer associate slots in Texas, a decrease of 34.2 percent from the 658 slots available at the same firms for summer 2009.
Greenberg Traurig, which has offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston, has no summer associates in its Texas offices this year, compared to three for summer 2009.
“We hired 13 associates in Texas over the past 12 months,” writes Ralph Santos, regional operating shareholder for the firm, in an e-mail message sent through a firm spokesperson. “With regard to summer associates, our program is national in scope and summer associates are often utilized across offices and practices, no matter where they are sitting,” Santos writes. “It is very likely that summer associates across the firm will participate in Texas work — again, in line with client needs.”
Dallas-based Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld hired eight summer associates in Texas, compared with 26 students last year, for a class size decrease of 69.2 percent, the second highest percentage drop in class size among the large firms.
The summer associates were recruited during the fall of 2009, at about the same time many Texas firms were announcing plans to delay the start dates for their permanent first-year associates.
“We didn’t think it was appropriate to overstock classes in Texas in light of the fact that those we had given offers to had yet to start due to the universally delayed starts among all law firms,” says Charles Gibbs, hiring partner for the firm’s Dallas office. The firm has 211 lawyers in Texas and 858 firmwide. [See "Ready, Set, Delay: Most BigTex Firms Push Back Associates' Start Dates," Texas Lawyer , Oct. 19, 2009, p.8.] “We thought it best to focus on assimilating people we had commitments to.”
The size of Houston-based Bracewell & Giuliani’s summer class dropped the least. The firm hired 46 summer associates in Texas for 2010, down just 4.2 percent from the 48 summer associates the firm hired in its Texas offices in 2009.
However, firm hiring partner Michael Telle of Houston points out that this year’s summer associate class includes eight students who have finished their first year of law school. When comparing last year’s class with this year’s, he looks at the 2Ls and notes that there are just 38 2Ls this year. That’s about 21 percent less than the 2L summer associate slots for 2009.
Telle says he talked with the firm’s section heads in August 2009 to gauge their hiring needs over the next year or two.
“We came up with a number based on that analysis,” he says. “The target number came in a little lower than the prior year.”
He says the second-year students were recruited in early fall, while 1Ls were recruited in January of 2010. The firm has 300 lawyers in Texas and 470 firmwide.
Three of the large Texas firms participating in the survey — Fort Worth-based Kelly Hart & Hallman and Strasburger & Price and Winstead, both of Dallas — increased the number of 2010 summer associates hired when compared with 2009.
“We think it’s important to maintain the summer associate program and good relations with the various schools where we interview students,” says Dee J. Kelly Jr., managing partner of 130-lawyer Kelly Hart. For 2010 the firm hired eight summer associates in Texas, up 14.3 percent from the seven hired in 2009.
“We don’t have a set number we go in with [when recruiting]; we try to bring in quality people,” Kelly says.
At Strasburger & Price, the firm’s summer associate class in Texas is 50 percent larger than it was last year, with nine students versus six in 2009.
“We went to a smaller recruiting class, targeted class, about three to four years ago,” says Scott Shanes of Frisco, hiring partner for the firm, which has 181 lawyers in Texas and 186 firmwide. He says in the fall of 2009 the firm saw an uptick in its business litigation and specialty litigation areas, such as environmental matters.
“Our class size is reflecting the needs of the firm,” he says. “We expect to be able to extend offers to everyone, if they perform as expected.”
Winstead, which had cancelled its 2009 summer associate class, this year has five students.
“With the continued expansion of Winstead’s core practice areas, our projected hiring needs for 2011 include multiple entry-level associates in addition to those entry-level associates hired by the firm in 2010,” writes Mike Alessio, Dallas shareholder and a member of the 254-lawyer firm’s executive committee, in an e-mail sent through a firm spokeswoman. “While the firm has been very active in lateral hiring shareholders and associates in 2009 and 2010, the working need for entry level associates has increased,” he writes.
With 82 students, Houston-based Vinson & Elkins has the largest summer class among the firms participating in the survey. But it’s stilldown 32 percent from 120 students in 2009.
The decision about the smaller class size was made in August 2009, when the firm began interviewing summer recruits on law school campuses, says Tom Leatherbury of Houston, hiring partner for the firm, which has 529 lawyers in Texas and 748 firmwide.
“I think we could have hired more this summer,” he says. “Our firmwide number of 2L summer associates is 73, and this fall  we are adding 66 new lawyers. So I think we’ll be in a position to make a lot of summer associates offers. It gives us the ability to hire about the same number of lawyers.”
Of the 82 students, 21 have just finished their first year of law school, which is about twice as many 1Ls the firm hired as summer associates in 2009.
“We always finalize our numbers of first-years after we’re through with 2L hiring in the fall,” he says. A smaller 2L class means there is more room for 1L students, he says. “These are students who graduate in 2011, so we’re looking almost three years ahead.”
The Right Fit
Jose Ancer, a Harvard Law School student who has completed his second year, is starting a six-week summer position with Vinson & Elkins in Houston on May 24. Then he will be working with Andrews Kurth in Austin.
“Right now, the only thing that is definitely solid is that I’m not doing litigation,” he says.
Ancer is interested in transactions and says he’ll be comparing the sophisticated transactions work for clients such as oil services companies in Houston with a smaller market in Austin of venture capital and technology companies
“Both are corporate work and very different ball games,” he says. “I’m trying to figure out which one I fit in.”
Ancer was also a summer associate with V&E in Houston last year. He says he likes the fact that the Texas legal market allows students to split summers and spend time with more than one firm.
“The two firms I chose have good reputations for offer rates,” he says. “If I only got a job offer from one, I would be ecstatic.”
Mendoza says her goal during the next several weeks at Baker Botts is to decide which area of transactional law to pursue. She began her four-week Baker Botts stint on May 17 and will be working at V&E’s Houston office beginning June 21. Mendoza says that, while a 2009 summer associate with Baker Botts, she worked on litigation and transactions projects. This year at Baker Botts she wants to find a fit in the transactions practices of the firm’s global projects section, which includes oil and gas, project development and finance, real estate and energy regulatory work, she says.
“This year I identified global projects as my preference area,” she says. “This year I’m trying to figure out where in global projects I will fit.”
She hopes to receive an offer for a job in Houston. “I love Houston; it’s my hometown,” she says.
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