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Law students go a-courting

More find jobs as firms prep for expansion
By Eric Young

San Francisco Business Times
July 5, 2004

Anticipating a continued uptick in legal work, a number of Bay Area firms have increased the number of law students in their summer internship programs.

Called "summer associates," the crop of mostly second-year law students who work at a firm until August is a prime source of future legal talent for big law firms. Usually more than half -- sometimes as many as 100 percent of a summer associate class -- get offers to join the firm after they graduate law school and pass the state bar exam a year later.

For some Bay Area firms, attorneys' expectations of continued growth in their practices drives the increase in size of summer associate classes. Such is the case with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati P.C., the Silicon Valley firm that is reporting surges in financing and corporate work. Wilson Sonsini has 42 summer associates, a 30 percent increase over last summer.

"We're trying to anticipate our needs and we're seeing an increase in business," said Leo Cunningham, a partner who helps oversee hiring at Wilson Sonsini.

At San Francisco-based Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP., "We definitely have seen a strengthening of the business climate and a pick up in business activity which is translating into a pick up in legal work," said Joseph Malkin, the partner in charge of the San Francisco office. That translates into Orrick partners deciding to bring in a total of 75 summer associates, 50 percent more than the previous year.

Law firm leaders described similar trends at Pillsbury Winthrop LLP of San Francisco, where their 52 summer associates is up from 47 last year and at Fenwick & West LLP, where the firm has 29 summers, up from 17 last year.

Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe LLP, another firm with its main office in San Francisco, said its increasing business led partners there to bring in 76 summer associates, one of the firm's largest classes. The firm would like to make offers to every summer associate, assuming they make a good impression by August, said Chrysanthe Gussis, a Heller attorney who oversees the summer associate program.

Not every local firm is looking to increase the size of its summer class. At Cooley Godward LLP, for example, the firm brought in 38 people compared with about 45 last year. The firm is looking to expand its ranks of attorneys, said Christopher Sundermeier, a partner who chairs the firm's summer associate committee. But Cooley is taking a conservative approach to its summer class in part because much firm hiring will center on attracting partners from other firms.

At Morrison & Foerster LLP, San Francisco's biggest law firm, the number of summer associates is flat at 90 summer associates, said Susan Mac Cormac, a partner who co-chairs the firm's attorney personnel committee.

Summer associates are paid for their time at the firm, generally on par with what first year attorneys earn, which hovers around $125,000 annually. Their time at a firm generally involves a mix of legal work and socializing with partners.