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Western New York lifestyle helps attract legal talent in a tight job market


One of the best recruiting tools for Western New York law firms might be spending a few years at a big city firm.

Rochester and Buffalo law firms rarely compete with the largest big city firms for top-tier students. But after a few years of earning lots of money and getting excellent training in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C., their outlook sometimes changes.

They get tired of the long commutes and the high cost of living, and they want to start a family.

“We’ve had very good success, under that very scenario, of recruiting associates and laterals to our office,” said Edward J. Hourihan, managing partner of the Rochester office of Bond Schoeneck & King.

Although the largest law firms in the bustling markets are still the most sought after positions for law school graduates, Western New York law firms are having no trouble finding quality candidates to hire, despite the tight job market here and nationally.

The larger firms in Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo say they have hundreds of résumés from new law school graduates to choose from for the handful of openings for new associates.

And there’s no shortage of experienced attorneys from prestigious firms in the biggest markets seeking out opportunities upstate for a variety of reasons.

“In the last couple of years I’ve seen a trend toward people very high in their law school classes wanting to start their careers upstate with us,” said David G. Burch Jr., hiring partner at Barclay Damon LLP.

But that’s an exception, not the rule.

“I know there’s lots of folks that are going to the big cities and getting the training at those firms, and the big pay checks, and then they want to transition back to their home towns as they start a family, or realize that scene is not for them,” Burch said.

Like most law firms, Barclay Damon hires summer interns between their second and third years of law school. Usually, if all goes well, those students are offered jobs as associates at the firm when they graduate.

Barclay Damon also works to build relationships with law school students while they are still in school by pairing mentor lawyers with the students. The effort recognizes that the students may not be interested in starting their career at Barclay Damon, but they may change their plans down the road.

Jacqueline Phipps Polito, office managing shareholder in the Perinton location of Littler Mendelson P.C., said her firm uses outside agencies to recruit attorneys as needed.

“I also believe in local advertising like the The Daily Record,” Polito said. “I think it’s important to put the advertising in there because sometimes people might just see you’re looking for a position. But we don’t do recruiting with the law schools or anything of that nature.”

Polito said she has encountered no special difficulties attracting lawyers to Western New York.

“For us in particular, we have had people that have come back to the area after they’ve gone away to the big city for a little bit,” Polito said.

At Bond Schoeneck & King, even if there is no immediate need, the firm will sometimes hire a talented attorney so they don’t go to another firm.

“That’s an investment that costs us money and doesn’t return a profit right away,” Hourihan said.

On the other hand, many of the hiring partners at Western New York firms know each other, so if one of them meets a candidate, but they don’t have an opening, they’ll introduce the candidate to another firm where there may be an opening.

Cressida A. Dixon, deputy managing member at Bond Schoeneck & King, works on recruiting with Hourihan.

“If a potential candidate is interested in coming upstate, I think actually Rochester is very appealing,” Dixon said.

“It has a lot of culture. It’s large enough, and we have a lot of larger law firms that allow a potential multi-jurisdictional practice … The firms in Rochester, most of them have downstate offices, so they can kind of get the best of both worlds,” she said.

Like other firms, Bond Schoeneck & King has several attorneys who worked in larger markets earlier in their careers and moved to Rochester seeking a different lifestyle.

“We have a lot of people who have come from other places, other firms. And a lot of those who came from downstate came back when they were ready to have a family,” Dixon said.

Bond Schoeneck & King takes on about 10 summer associates each year, which translates into 10 new hires in a typical year.

Kristopher Vurraro, chair of the recruiting committee at Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP, often explains to job candidates who are not from the area that his firm offers an opportunity to do the same type of sophisticated legal work as a big city firm but with the added benefit of Western New York’s quality of life.

“Firms like ours have the same breadth and depth of practice and work with the same types of national and international clients, but you’re not in your office until midnight every single night and you’re not on the train an hour and a half in and another hour and a half back home,” Vurraro said.

He’s seen more of the top law school students considering jobs outside the biggest markets.

“It’s been several years where I’ve kind of felt like we’ve got enough to offer here at this firm to compete on that stage with enough stuff those cities can’t provide,” Vurraro said.

Richard Beers, office leader at Phillips Lytle LLP in Rochester, said most of its job candidates have a local connection.

“And typically that’s either somebody who grew up here, or went to school here, or is married to, or in a relationship with somebody who lived in Rochester, or went to school in Rochester,” Beers said.

The common story line for the lawyers the firm does recruit is that “they’re married and starting a family and look at Rochester as an attractive place to have that chapter of their life unfold,” Beers said.

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