State, national law firms reduce recruitment

When Eddie Torres went to University of Miami’s law school last month to recruit summer interns for Steel Hector & Davis, he noticed some of his competitors were absent. He also discovered a more eager and more realistic group of students.

“There’s a realization out there that it’s not a students’ market,” Torres said. “They may not get the plumb job they’re looking for. A lot of them are casting wider nets as a result.”

Just two years ago, law schools student had found summer jobs plentiful. Students count on summer jobs to lead to permanent positions after graduation. This fall, however, career planners at Florida law schools are finding that the troubled U.S. economy has changed recruiting at their campuses.

Many Florida law firms and local offices of national firms say they still are actively recruiting on college campuses. But some Florida firms are hiring only for a single office and some out-of-state firms with local offices are more selective in which campuses they conduct interviews. The students interviewing now would work at firms during summer 2003 and if all goes well, receive a job offer to start as an associate in fall 2004.

Marcy Cox, assistant dean of career planning at University of Miami School of Law, says of the 100 firms that typically recruit on campus, about 10 percent didn’t show this year. And she expects even more will pull out next year.

“The top students have lots of offers,” Cox said. “It’s the middle and bottom level of the class that is affected. These days the students know the market and feel fortunate to receive one offer.”

With big firms cutting the size of the summer classes and some out-of-state firms taking Florida schools off their recruiting lists, Cox said small and mid-size Florida firms will get a better chance at the top students.

Half of law schools nationally reported a decrease of 5 percent or more in the number of employers on campus and 36 percent of law firms nationwide reported visiting fewer schools in their recruiting efforts, according to National Association for Law Placement.

Nationally, there’s a change in the recruiting outlook as big law firms struggle with more lawyers then they have work. But they still see summer associates as a necessary pipeline.

“There’s always need for entry level hires. It’s a business reality,” said Jerry Nash, interim executive director.

What has changed, Nash says, is how firms recruit. “They are trying to pinpoint the people they feel they have the best chance of getting and keeping,” he said.

Janet Mosseri, director of career development at Nova Southeastern University’s law school, says the troubled economy has led to more student participation in on-campus recruiting.

While the number of employers recruiting at Nova has remained steady, she says, the firms are filling fewer slots and hiring cautiously.

“Some firms are not sure how many summer associates they will be hiring,” Mosseri said. “Students are going in knowing they may not get a job.”

At University of Florida, law school administrators took action two years ago when they saw the economy weakening. The school marketed its fall on campus recruiting program to more firms outside of Florida and it launched a spring on campus recruiting program as well.

The spring programs attracts mostly small and mid-size law firms.

Even Holland & Knight, which earlier this year laid off 60 lawyers, says it’s actively recruiting summer interns on college campuses in Florida and the Northeast.

The firm will hire three fewer summer clerks each for its Miami and New York offices.

However, Holland & Knight has created summer associates programs in several offices that did not have them last year _ such as Lakeland and Tallahassee.