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Valley's big law firms
find they're less attractive

Eric Young
San Francisco Business Times
November 10, 2003

Once the hottest spot for law school interns, Silicon Valley's appeal has cooled considerably.

Several of the Bay Area's largest law firms -- which are in the midst of recruiting next year's summer interns -- said interest in the region has dropped among many law school students. The technology bust of the past two years has turned off many students who just a few years ago were clamoring to come to the place where deals and money were plentiful, law firm recruiters said.

"No question, Silicon Valley is less attractive than it was two years ago," said John Dwyer, a partner in Cooley Godward LLP's Palo Alto office who chairs the firm's hiring committee. "We're seeing fewer people sign up to interview with us."

Pipeline trickle

Summer associates -- law school students interning at a firm for a few months -- are important to law firms because they represent a main pipeline for future talent. Law firms keep close tabs on summer associates as they complete their law school education, and extend job offers to their favorites. That raises the stakes for students, too, who are choosing a potential future employer and not just a place to spend a few summer months.

The waning interest among summer associates is most pronounced among a number of prestigious East Coast law schools, such as Harvard University, Duke University, the University of Virginia and Columbia University.

It's not just law firms that deal largely with technology law -- such as Cooley, Mountain View's Fenwick & West LLP and East Palo Alto's Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich LLP -- that are finding it more difficult to attract summer associates. General practice law firms such as Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe LLP of San Francisco and Morrison & Foerster LLP, also of San Francisco, are having a tougher time filling summer openings in their Silicon Valley offices.

"One year you beat them off with sticks and the next year they won't look at you," said Lee Kite, professional recruitment manager at Heller Ehrman.

Brobeck stigma

To counter flagging interest, law firms such as Heller Ehrman host more frequent receptions when they go to campuses during recruiting season. At Pillsbury Winthrop LLP of San Francisco, recruiters this year will try to visit more schools than in previous years, said Allison Leopold Tilley, hiring partner for the firm's Silicon Valley office.

Law firms said that continued steady summer associate interest from California schools such as Stanford University, the University of California at Los Angeles and University of California at Berkeley means they don't have to cut back on the size of summer associate classes.

But students at schools in California and along the East Coast have become more pointed in their questions when they sit down with recruiters, asking about firm finances and the amount of work the firm is handling.

"People are in essence asking, 'How do I know you're not another Brobeck?'" said Erik Olson, hiring partner in the Palo Alto office of Morrison & Foerster LLP, referring to the San Francisco firm that gorged on technology-related legal work only to dissolve this year when that work ran out.

Recruiters said they suspect that law school students will continue to ask more business-related questions about firm finances.

"You better believe that if I was a student with the debt they have to carry, job security would be something I'd be concerned about as well," said Kite.