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Jax Daily Record Monday, Sep. 16, 200212:00 PM EST

City popular with law school grads

by: Sean McManus

by Sean McManus

Staff Writer

With a weak economy hurling twentysomethings toward the shelter of graduate school, law firms can look forward to jam-packed interview lists and top-notch resumes as they begin this year’s fall recruitment season. And top law school graduates are beginning to think maybe Jacksonville’s not such a bad place to live and start a career.

“For the first time we’re noticing high caliber recruits who are interested in quality of life issues and really want to practice in Jacksonville,” said Suzanne Judas, a partner at Holland & Knight who is in charge of the office’s recruitment efforts. “Last summer, an intern who was near the top of his class at Vanderbilt was telling us this is where he wants to raise a family.”

While the word “Atlanta” came flying out of the mouths of most law school students in the Southeast a few years ago, more and more future lawyers are starting to consider other options.

“Sure, I’ll look at Jacksonville,” said Reece Wilson, a second year law student at the University of Georgia whose father, Hank, is an attorney at Smith, Hulsey & Busey. “Considering everything going on, I feel like it might be a good idea to be there while it grows and redefines itself.”

And while Wilson hasn’t ruled out New York or another big city, he likes living near the ocean and plans on interviewing with local firms to see what’s out there.

Seth Pajcic, who is a second-year law student at Florida State University, hopes to use law school as a launching pad for politics. While he is interested in working at a state attorney’s office in Florida after graduation, many students in his class are talking about Jacksonville.

“I think a lot of people think it’s at least the best choice in the state,” said Pajcic, son of Jacksonville trial attorney Gary Pajcic.

The process of matching law school graduates with law firms starts at the beginning of the student’s second year. At most firms, it’s a company-wide endeavor that involves on-site interviews, city and regional job fairs, personal contacts and random resumes that trickle in via e-mail and fax.

At Holland & Knight, a firm with almost 1,400 attorneys worldwide, recruiting starts at what U.S. News & World Report refers to as the “top tier” schools.

Alida Coo-Kendall, who is the national recruitment coordinator for Holland & Knight, said there are about 60 law schools nationwide that are considered worthy of training a future Holland & Knight lawyer.

“That doesn’t mean state schools aren’t very important,” said Coo-Kendall, who works in Holland & Knight’s Boston office and oversees about 10 recruitment coordinators across the country. “There’s no doubt that many attorneys in our firm have strong ties with those schools, since most of them went to one.”

But every year Holland & Knight also sends a handful of lawyers to places like Harvard, Yale and Stanford to conduct interviews, distribute firm literature and shake hands — something that starts in late August.

“At Holland & Knight we have a one-firm concept,” said Coo-Kendall. “That basically means that lawyers from all over the country can recruit for any office.”

And Coo-Kendall said many Holland & Knight attorneys get involved in the recruitment process.

“I think they feel like if they land a really great associate, they get the bragging rights for bringing him or her in,” she said.

At most firms the on-site interviews include 20-30 minutes with two lawyers (a partner and an associate) and count as the preliminary screening process. There, the firm tries to meet as many qualified students as possible. It normally lasts through September.

By October, the best candidates receive “call-backs” and are flown to the firm’s office for a second round of interviews.

“This is a chance for the candidate to meet as many lawyers in the office as possible,” said Judas. The interviews, which many times are one-on-one with various attorneys, usually include lunch or dinner. At the end, Judas said, the lawyers fill out evaluation forms and the winners get offers.

Usually, the first offer is for an internship (sometimes called a Summer Associates Program) and happens the summer before the third and last year of law school. Most internships are paid and it is those three months that determine whether he or she will get a permanent offer, according to Tom Dearing, a partner in the Jacksonville office of Leboeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae, who is on that firm’s hiring committee.

“This office posts with about 10-12 schools in the Southeast,” said Dearing, referring to those schools where Leboeuf Lamb sends information and accepts resumes. Dearing’s firm has about 10 lawyers on the hiring committee in an office of about 22 lawyers. And Dearing said he expects there will be a substantially higher number of qualified applicants this year compared to past years.

“I think most firms have scaled back hiring a little bit while at the same time more students are in law school,” he said. “I think we’ll meet a lot of applicants who are academically and socially qualified.”

It’s the social qualifications that Lebeouf Lamb examines over cocktails at meet-and-great receptions the night before call-back interviews later in the fall.

“We want to make sure they will fit in,” said Dearing, “in addition to having great grades and extracurriculars.”

Coo-Kendall said leadership qualities, being well-rounded and superior writing skills are also important when choosing the right applicant.

“We also want to make sure they are committed to Holland & Knight,” she said, “and that they know about the firm.”

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