Law Firms Postpone, Shorten Summer Associate Programs

By Xiumei Dong
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Law360 (April 2, 2020, 8:24 PM EDT) -- Amid growing concern over the coronavirus outbreak, Cooley LLP, Vinson & Elkins LLP, DLA Piper and Sidley Austin LLP have all delayed their summer associate programs, deferring the start dates to at least June.

Palo Alto, California-based Cooley confirmed Thursday that it has pushed back the start of its program to June 15, shortening it from 10 weeks to six.

"The firm places paramount importance on the health and safety of its people, clients and communities," a spokesperson for Cooley said in a statement to Law360. "We are confident that, even with a six-week schedule, our summer associates will benefit from high-quality assignments and be able to fully experience the firm's unique culture."

This year, Cooley has accepted 102 summer associates. They will end their apprenticeships on July 24, as previously scheduled. Cooley has declined to comment on whether their salaries will be reduced as a result of the shortened program.

And in an email to summer associates Wednesday, Vinson & Elkins hiring partner Steve Gill said his firm is delaying the start of this year's summer associate program to no earlier than June 15.

The Houston-based firm currently has several of its offices under mandatory stay-at-home orders, which are expected to remain in effect through April and into May, according to Gill.

"As we plan for the possibility that we will be serving our clients remotely into June and potentially beyond, it became clear to us that we will not be ready to welcome you into our offices on May 18, as originally planned," Gill said in the email obtained by Law360.

Gill said the firm is informing its 100 summer associates now so they can plan ahead in terms of travel and housing. He reassured them that the summer associate program is a critical part of recruitment and that the firm will continue to provide updates as the situation unfolds.

"It is our hope and intention that the summer associate program will occur, albeit with some appropriate modifications in light of the COVID-19 pandemic," Gill said.

And while acknowledging the importance of the summer associate program, another BigLaw heavyweight, DLA Piper, also confirmed Thursday that it has postponed its summer program, which will now run from June 29 through July 31.

"The health and safety of our people, including the summer associates who will join us in June and July, is our top priority as we weigh decisions regarding our programs and operations," the firm said in a statement to Law360.

"Though the start date has been delayed, we still intend to provide a robust program with a thorough introduction to DLA Piper, our work and our people," DLA Piper said.

Additionally, Sidley Austin will not start its summer associate program sooner than June 1, according to a source close to the firm. The start dates for each office will be flexible in order to accommodate the circumstances in the respective cities, the source said.

The news comes as law firms big and small have been weighing whether to cancel their summer associate classes or how to keep them intact while ensuring employees' health and safety.

Although cancellations are much anticipated, firms including Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, Covington & Burling LLP and Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP have said they plan to continue with their summer associate programs. Some are planning to have their law student participants work remotely.

--Additional reporting by Emma Cueto. Editing by Philip Shea.

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