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Md. law firms hiring students at about same rate as last year

The size of summer associate programs at several Maryland law firms remained steady or decreased slightly from 2012, consistent with national trends shown in a recent report by The National Association for Law Placement Inc.

Semmes, Bowen & Semmes has almost always had three summer associates since 1997, partner Scott M. Trager says. ‘It’s a manageable number…,’ he says. ‘We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin.’

That report found the average number of summer associate positions has stayed about the same since 2010, but is still down 30 percent compared to five years ago.

“I feel like that is new reality, so to speak,” said D. Jill Green, associate director for law career development at the University of Baltimore School of Law. “Until the legal market changes we are not expecting summer associate offers to increase.”

Miles & Stockbridge P.C. has brought in seven summer interns a year for the past four years, four or five of whom are second-year law students. Back in 2009, the firm had nine full summer interns and three partial summer interns.

“I think if we look at it, it’s an adjustment for the economy; but having said that, we have been actually hiring more entry-level [associates] than there were [summer associates],” said Randi S. Lewis, director of diversity and professional development at the Baltimore-based firm.

The firm bases its summer associate hiring on a conservative estimate of the entry-level positions it is likely to have, Lewis said.

“What we don’t want to do is hire too many where we couldn’t give jobs to everyone,” Lewis said.

“We want to be in a position to hire entry-levels from the class. This is really recruiting for entry-level.”

At some Maryland firms, the summer class size has held steady for year. Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker P.A. in Potomac has hired between two and three summer associates each year since 2009, and 2013 is no exception. At Semmes, Bowen & Semmes in Baltimore, the streak is even longer: The firm has almost always had three summer associates since at least 1997, said partner Scott M. Trager.

“It’s a manageable number,” said Trager, who was a summer associate himself. “We hope to be able to bring them in as associates full-time. We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin. If we go beyond that, then we might go beyond our needs.”

Elsewhere, the numbers show a bit more variation.

At Ober|Kaler in Baltimore, summer associate numbers peaked at four in 2008. The firm has taken on three every summer since then, but will only take two summer associates this year.

Saul Ewing LLP’s Baltimore office will also have two summer associates this year, the same as in 2012. The firm dropped the summer associate program in 2010 but took on four the following year.

“Our staff needed that time [in 2010] to be more cautious, given what was going on in the economy at that time,” said Gregory J. Wartman, the hiring partner at the firm. “Since those years we have come back with some of same summer associate hiring that we had in the past.”

Nationally, the NALP report showed an average of eight summer associates per firm, down from an average of nine in 2012.

Venable LLP’s Baltimore office matches the NALP average exactly. Back in 2009, the class size was 10, but it shrank to five in 2010.

The 2010 cut “was a response to the state of the economy and Venable did maintain a summer program during that period of time when many firms did not,” said M. Rosewin Sweeney, a partner at the firm who is in charge of the summer associate program in Baltimore. “It looks to me like the numbers are pretty much where they would have been. … I think it seems to have rebounded.”

The firm polls its practice groups on projected demand before deciding how many summer associates to take on, Sweeney said.

“It’s an art as much as a science and we have, I think, done a pretty good job of it,” Sweeney said. “We are careful not to size our summer class to be too big. You don’t want to have people here and not be able to satisfy their expectations.”

Hiring

Though summer associate class size in the Baltimore area has gone down over time, the percent of summer associates hired afterward has remained largely the same, said UB Law’s Green.

That, too, is consistent with the NALP’s results nationally. About 90 percent of summer associates nationwide received hiring offers in 2012, according to the NALP study. That number has remained steady over the past few years after plunging to 69 percent in 2009.

“I think that firms, particularly in Baltimore, have been great about shrinking their summer associate class size so they can make those offers,” Green said. “They have been thoughtful in their process so they are not bringing people in and having unmet expectations over the summer.”

At Miles & Stockbridge, which pays summer associates $2,500 a week, the firm has hired almost every 2L associate in its summer program for the past five years, Lewis said. And last year, the firm hired two or three other entry-level attorneys in addition to the summer associates, Lewis said.

“Although we are being conservative in summer programs, we end up hiring more anyway,” Lewis said.

While Venable did not offer exact figures, the firm said it hires a majority of its summer associates at the end of the program. Salaries for summer associates at Venable are prorated as a percent of a first year’s salary.

Semmes also ends up hiring a majority of the three summer associates it takes on every year, Trager said.

“We hire based on needs, but I believe in the last several summers we have given offers to a majority of our summer associates,” Trager said. “We don’t hire summer associates to be like a temp. We hope to be able to invest in them and [have them] join the firm on a permanent basis.”

Saul Ewing hired all four of its summer associates in 2008, but only one from the class of three in 2009. There was no program in 2010, and the firm hired three of its four summer associates in 2011.

In 2012, while Saul Ewing had just two summer associates, it offered jobs to both. The 2012 class was paid about $2,403 a week, and this year’s summers are expected to make the same amount.

“We are not like some other firms who hire tons of summer associates with the idea not giving offers,” Wartman said. “The goal is to hire those we will be able to give offers to if they do well over the summer.”

At Ober|Kaler, the firm has hired almost every 2L summer associate since 2008. The exception was in 2009 when it only hired one summer associate out of the three that were eligible. Though Ober|Kaler declined to give a salary figure, it said the amount has not changed since 2009.

Recruiting options

Green said the number of law firms recruiting at the law school has declined significantly, reflecting a regional trend. About 42 percent of law schools in the mid-Atlantic region reported a decrease of 5 percent or more in employer activity on campus, according to the NALP study.

Figures for University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law were not readily available. Associate Dean Theresa LaMaster referred questions to Dana Morris, assistant dean for career development, who did not respond by press time.

According to Green, UB Law has seen a steady demand by firms who do not have traditional summer associate programs. Hired as law clerks for the summer, the students continue to work part-time during the school year and often get hired after graduation, Green said.

Also, there are an increasing opportunities for public-sector internships, like posts at nonprofits or clerkships with judges, Green said.

“We have students [working] in just about every judge’s chambers in the summer, all over the state,” Green said.