Summary List Placement
The ecosystem of law firms is an intensely competitive, often secretive one. Given the value placed on individual books of business and practice area expertise, demand for top talent can be fierce among firms looking to rev up their work.
Legal recruiters play an instrumental role in the industry, acting as matchmakers that discern the best fit between a firm’s needs and culture and an attorney’s skills and career goals, and orchestrating lateral moves that can shape a firm’s business. Many recruiters were themselves practicing attorneys, bringing firsthand knowledge to their work.
The pandemic, in spite of its initial challenges, brought with it a unique opportunity for firms seeking to boost their ranks. Although hiring in the last three months of 2020 was 28% lower than in the same period in 2019, total law firm hires saw an uptick of 44% from the third quarter to the fourth quarter last year, according to data from Firm Prospects — signaling a positive outlook from firms.
The fourth quarter, in fact, was “fantastic,” according to Major, Lindsey & Africa’s president, John Cashman, exemplifying the optimistic outlook that most recruiters across the legal industry have about the year ahead.
“The market is roiling,” said Alisa Levin of legal search group Greene Levin Snyder.
Insider tapped its sources at law firms and legal search groups to identify 15 of the top recruiting firms that facilitate big industry moves. All of these firms specialize in partner and associate recruiting at the top Am Law firms, though some also do in-house placements and interim hiring.
Major, Lindsey & Africa
With 29 locations around the world and around 200 recruiters, Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA) is one of the largest legal search companies in the industry. In 2020, it made around 300 permanent placements at law firms and approximately 340 in-house placements at companies like Facebook, Amazon, and McKinsey & Company, according to John Cashman, MLA’s president.
“We are a truly global search firm, given our size and perspective,” said Cashman. “We start cultivating relationships in law schools, and work with those law students throughout their careers. ‘MLA for life’ is a slogan that we use, and it’s true.”
Founded in 2005, Lateral Link takes a “for attorneys, by attorneys” approach to recruiting. Its founder, Michael Allen, told Insider that he made the pivot to legal recruiting because he didn’t have an ardent interest in practicing law to begin with, but instead felt a “fire in the belly” for more entrepreneurial work.
Lateral Link has grown nationally since its launch, operating in 12 locations in the US and Asia with a network of around 50 director-level recruiters — including David Lat, a name that may be familiar with the legal community as the founder of the blog, Above the Law. The company has placed associates and partners in major Am Law 200 firms, including Sidley Austin, Wilson Sonsini, and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.
Its sister company, Cadence Counsel, focuses on in-house placements at corporations.
Parker + Lynch
Parker + Lynch’s more than 300 executive recruiters cover the legal, finance, and tech spaces, with over 50 recruiters who exclusively deal with the legal industry. The company works with the gamut of law firms, from the Am Law 200 to regional, boutique, and local firms.
As part of the Adecco Group, a Fortune Global 500 staffing company, Parker + Lynch employs the resources of its larger global organization when making legal placements, and operates in over 70 countries worldwide.
In addition to subject matter qualifications and cultural fit, Laurie Chamberlin, president of Parker + Lynch, said that it emphasizes soft skills in candidates. “Top candidates demonstrate a strong entrepreneurial spirit,” she wrote in an email. “We are always on the lookout for business development, networking, social media, and thought leadership skills.”
Joe Macrae began his career in legal search in 1990, co-founding two recruiting firms in London before starting Macrae Inc. across the pond in Palo Alto. It’s since expanded with four other offices in San Francisco, New York, D.C., and London, specializing in partner recruitment in the Am Law 50, including Latham & Watkins.
Most of the firm’s 15 recruiters — among them three new hires, announced on Tuesday — are former attorneys, and all take an intensely collaborative approach to recruiting.
“Each of our recruiters learns new data every day about deals and cases our clients are working on, specific needs clients may have, and nuances in the development of legal specializations in one market that may soon be relevant in another,” said Macrae in an email. “Our culture and systems enable us to share that information in real-time to the benefit of all.”
Mark Bruce International
Mark Rosen launched Mark Bruce International in New York City in 2001, and has since made a number of high-profile partner placements, including Cleary Gottlieb’s Ethan Klingsberg at Freshfields in 2019 and Cravath’s Scott Barshay at Paul Weiss in 2016. The placements of the two rainmakers were especially seen as major shakeups in the M&A legal industry, where moves of seasoned partners have traditionally been rare.
Mark Bruce also facilitates law firm openings and mergers.
Linda Ginsberg, founder and senior partner of Ginsberg Partners, takes an especially personal approach to legal recruiting, which is reflected in the fact that the company’s core staff consists of Ginsberg herself and one other senior recruiter.
Based in New York, Ginsberg Partners focuses almost exclusively on partners and senior-level lawyers at elite law firms in the major US markets. Among the more than 225 partners placed throughout her career, Ginsberg has placed three partners at Quinn Emanuel this year and 29 partners at Latham & Watkins over the past 10 years, assisting in the steady growth of their intellectual property practice, Ginsberg told Insider.
Ginsberg’s 12-year experience practicing law — including as a litigator at Davis Polk & Wardwell and head of litigation at Viacom — allows her to understand “what makes lawyers tick” and take on a counselor role for both candidates and client firms. “My favorite questions to ask potential latereals are: What are you best at? What do you enjoy doing most? And what do you want to do more of?” she said. She advises firms to put themselves in the candidate’s shoes and realize that while for the firm, recruiting is mostly about business, for the candidate, the decision is very personal.
Lippman Jungers Bala
Described as another recruiter as a “superstar,” Lippman Jungers Bala was founded in 2011 by Sabina Lippman and Mark Jungers, both former attorneys who cut their teeth in the recruiting world as partners at Watanabe and MLA, respectively. Divya Bala, who joined Lippman Jungers in 2013, became a name partner in January 2020.
Its team of 8 recruiters operates in major cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and D.C. According to its website, recent placements include those of partners at Sidley Austin, Paul Hastings, Kirkland & Ellis, and Latham & Watkins, among others.
Greene Levin Snyder
Alisa Levin, co-founder of Greene Levin Snyder, describes its team of 10 recruiters as “human search engines,” using deep industry knowledge to make partner and associate placements in major law firms — including Kirkland & Ellis, Freshfields, Weil Gotshal, Latham & Watkins, and Ropes & Gray — small boutiques, and in-house legal departments at corporations.
Levin, who practiced bankruptcy law at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, White & Case, and Fried Frank, said that she brings her knowledge of lawyers and law firms to find the best cultural fit on both ends. “No one size fits all,” she said. “We don’t throw spaghetti at the wall — you have to know the client.”
Larry Watanabe has been recruiting in the legal industry for more than 30 years, establishing a reputation as “one of the more prolific recruiters in the country,” according to Forbes. He founded Watanabe Schwartz in 1998, and specializes in partner and practice group moves among many elite law firms, such as White & Case, Dentons, and Morrison Foerster, per its website.
Mestel & Company
Mestel & Company specializes in permanent placements of associates and partners at Am Law 200, regional, local firms and small boutiques, as well as corporations such as Fortune 100 companies, hedge funds, private equity companies, and startups. Hire Counsel, its sister company, deals with contract work. “We can handle anything that touches legal for our clients — from soup to nuts, coast to coast,” said Mary Rosenfeld D’Eramo, vice president of operations at Mestel.
Founded in 1987, Mestel has eight offices across the country, and its 20 recruiters take a personal and metric-based approach to their work. Avery Ellis, national executive managing director, said that recruiters at Mestel perform due diligence by completing a lateral partner questionnaire — used by many recruiting firms — that includes metrics like billable hours, originations, and clients.
“It’s a lot more than just three phone calls,” Ellis said.
Cardinal Search Partners
Headquartered in New York, Cardinal Search Partners runs a lean team of six recruiters, all of whom were practicing attorneys at top law firms. According to co-founder Nicole Spira, who previously worked at Big Law firms like Cravath Swaine & Moore and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, the search group has made placements for a range of boutiques and “virtually every Am Law 200 firm,” including White & Case, Cooley, Davis Polk, and Kirkland & Ellis.
“We identify, evaluate, and introduce strong attorneys for consideration to law firms and business organizations while simultaneously guiding and advising attorneys in making career choices in a challenging industry,” said Spira.
Corrao Miller Wiesenthal
Located in New York, Corrao Miller Wiesenthal makes attorney and partner placements both nationally and internationally, with a focus on the New York tri-state area. The firm was founded by Laura Corrao, Robin Miller, and Lauren Wiesenthal in 1990 during an economic downturn in the United States, which has equipped it with the know-how of helping law firms make strategic hires in an unstable market, Miller said.
Corrao Miller Wiesenthal’s six recruiters, all of whom are former attorneys, has worked with top law firms like Paul Weiss, Latham & Watkins, Ropes & Gray, and Fried Frank. The “intentionally” small team allows the firm to take an especially cooperative and personal approach to recruiting. “We’re all rowing in the same boat,” said Miller.
It also makes in-house legal placements at other industries, with a particularly robust roster of clients in the financial services space.
The four-person team at Walker Associates exclusively focuses on New York partner placements, working with firms like Davis Polk, Baker McKenzie, and Mayer Brown, per its website. It was founded in 2006.
“We work with clients that have strategic needs and have really great stories about their platform,” said Ross Weil, principal of Walker Associates. “We bring that to the market and speak to candidates to match them to those needs and stories.”
Parrillo Search Group
Founded in September 2020, Parrillo Search Group is one of the newest firms featured in this list, but its founder, Michael Parrillo, brings with him 11 years of recruiting experience from Mark Bruce International. Its three recruiters are based in New York, and Parrillo said that he works primarily with partners and associates in the top Am Law 10 firms, like Kirkland & Ellis.
“We look to build long term relationships with our candidates by understanding their unique experience and goals, and serve as a market resource and sounding board,” Parrillo said. “We aren’t focused on one-off transactions. We are focused on building and servicing relationships.”
New York-based E.P. Dine has been conducting legal searches for law firms and corporations since 1975, both nationally and globally.
According to its website, the company has a team of 11 recruiters who facilitate in-house moves at a range of businesses like Time Warner, Bessemer Venture Partners, and BlackRock. On the law firm side, its client list covers prominent names like DLA Piper, Cleary Gottlieb, and Quinn Emanuel, among others.