Several years ago, Robinson & Cole, the state's largest Connecticut-based firm, used to bring in summer classes of six or seven. But this year, it has two summer associates in Hartford, one in Boston and one in Rhode Island. The decrease, said hiring partner Thomas Cody, had nothing to do with the economic downturn.
"It's more of a question of aligning our staff and resources with our clients' needs," he said.
Shipman & Goodwin this year hired six associates for the summer. Four will be in Hartford and two will work out of the firm's Stamford office. In comparison, the firm had as few as four summer hires in 2011, but as many as 11 in 2008. "While not back to pre-recession numbers, the size of the class has slightly increased over the past few years," said Karen Staib, a partner and the firm's hiring chair.
The firm has also adjusted the length of the program. It went from 10 weeks pre-recession, to eight weeks in 2009, back to nine weeks this year.
"The summer associate program has always been a critical facet of our overall hiring process," Staib said. "I know some firms have moved away from summer hiring, but we continue to recruit at a wide array of schools in order to create the best summer class possible. We find the results to be worth that effort every season."
At Day Pitney, hiring partner Joe Scully remembers the "great legal market of the late '90s" when he was a summer associate at another firm. Back then, he said, members of summer classes spent a lot more time "eating cookies and drinking beer than our law students do."
While there is still a significant social component to the firm's summer program -- softball games and partner dinners -- "there's a lot more focus on doing quality work now, so you get an offer," Scully said.
To make sure law students will be a good fit if hired, Scully said he likes to see the summer hires handle all aspects of a project. "Two summers ago, we were involved in a dispute in which we were going to take a deposition of an expert witness in an interest valuation theory with respect to a damaged piece of machinery," he said. "We asked a summer associate to research the legal standard that would apply to how you would go about considering that type of valuation. The summer associate then took those depositions in the case and was able to provide some good questions. The associate then moved to preclude the expert and she took the first stab at the motion to preclude."
The associate, he said, helped the case get resolved.
Day Pitney spends a lot more time than it used to, said Scully, evaluating law students and whether they want to work in Connecticut, as opposed to "just getting bodies." In past years, some summer associates in larger classes would spend the summer in Hartford, and then leave to work in a larger market, like Boston or New York. The number of summer associates this year -- five second-year law students in Connecticut and six in New Jersey -- is clearly less than before the recession. The number, he said, is the result of "sitting down and anticipating what our needs will be in the future better."