Brobeck meltdown leaves HLS students unscathed (mostly)

BY JONAS BLANK

Despite a wave of recent law firm closings, Harvard Law students continue to land on their feet.

As the economy remains in a slump, several major law firms — including Boston-based Hill & Barlow and San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison — have shut their doors, leaving partners, associates and new recruits alike in the cold. While partners and more experienced associates tend to be highly mobile and are easily re-hired, new hires and summer associates with little legal background are less likely to land on their feet.

Thus, when over 100 students signed up for fall on-campus interviews with Brobeck (and several teetering Boston firms), Office of Career Services Director Mark Weber was concerned. The once-mighty Bay Area powerhouse was hemorrhaging partners, laying off associates and delaying start dates at a terrifying clip. HLS students who accepted permanent or even summer positions with the firm appeared likely to find themselves without anywhere to work when the time came.

As expected, Brobeck announced in late January that it was laying off 1000 employees, including 500 attorneys, and has now terminated all operations as a firm. Sure to be among those associates are many HLS graduates drawn to the once-promising firm’s tech-heavy practice.

Because the Office of Career Services relies primarily on student surveys and post-recruiting reports by law firms for most of its information on students’ final destinations, OCS Director Mark Weber said he is unsure how many alums or current students may be affected by the closing. “We’ve contacted their offices,” Weber said. “Nobody is taking calls right now.”

But based on Weber’s anecdotal information, it appears that most current students decided to avoid the firm before it collapsed.

“If it’s one or two [students affected] at most, I’d be surprised.” Weber said. “People were very cautious about the California market this year.” No students have contacted OCS to say they have lost summer positions thus far, though at least one student had a reimbursement check from the firm bounce.

“I knew Brobeck was in trouble,” said 2L Andrew Glanzman, whose $200 reimbursement check was returned to him. “But I was interested in San Diego, and they were friendly during my interviews, so I thought I would give them a chance. In the end, I decided to go with a Chicago firm instead.” Glanzman added that another California firm, Gray Cary, agreed to repay him for his loss on Brobeck.

Weber said that even if students do find summer or permanent offers rescinded, they should not be overly concerned. “[A firm closing] is not a huge problem for a Harvard Law student,” Weber said. “One firm’s bad fortune is another’s opportunity.”

Even in this relatively tough year, Weber said he is constantly approached by firms looking to hire 2Ls or graduating 3Ls who may have missed out on offers from fall OCI. He added that several new opportunities have cropped up in the past month. Even in California, where hiring has been especially tight, he noted that many firms are already scavenging Brobeck’s remains.

HLS has among the nation’s highest law school job placement rates, with over 99 percent consistently reporting employment at graduation. Weber said he expects to see no change to that number this year.

“The demand for Harvard students is inelastic,” Weber said. “This isn’t the place firms are going to cut when they’re making tough choices.”

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