Mark Jungers made his initial mark in legal recruiting not in one of the big cities with seemingly endless streams of lateral moves, but in the more subdued city of Milwaukee – where he had to build his practice from scratch, one phone call at a time. The former litigator proved a natural at the job and found his way to a senior position at national recruiting firm Major Lindsey & Africa. In 2011, he and his wife Sabina Lippman – herself a veteran of Watanabe Nason – founded what quickly became one of the nation’s best placement firms, the powerhouse Lippman Jungers LLC.
Lawdragon: First off, can you talk a little bit about where you are based, how you split your time and how this may reflect the mix of clients you and the firm take on?
Mark Jungers: I split my living time between our homes in L.A. and Milwaukee. The focus of my recruiting is split between Chicago and New York and, at times, other major cities. My time is generally broken up into thirds between L.A., Milwaukee, and “other.” Most of our clients have offices and strategic needs in all of the major markets. I’m currently working on a major deal in London that came out of something that we started in New York, and one in D.C. I’m traveling to New York soon at a client’s request with one of our other recruiters to do a search for several of their offices.
LD: What did you think you would do when finishing up your education and how did you find your way into recruiting?
MJ: From when I was a child, I always wanted to be a lawyer, maybe because my best friend’s dad when we were growing up was one and he drove a Ferrari. I was reminded of this recently when I saw “The Pursuit of Happyness” when Will Smith’s character sees a guy get out of one – the same one my friend’s father had, a 308 GTS – and asks him, “What do you do and how do you do it?” Anyway, after undergrad at The University of Wisconsin I went to law school at the University of Texas and enjoyed some of that experience but I did not enjoy the experience of being an associate at a big firm in Milwaukee. Two things led me to consider being a recruiter: Number one, two friends of mine had been recruiters relating to careers they had invested substantial time, energy and education in and really enjoyed the job; and two, I had recruiters calling me all of the time and I thought that they were not very good and I could do it better.
LD: Once you started working in the area, what hooked you in?
MJ: What we do every day is to convince people to do things that they are not inclined to do but that are in their best interests. We do this all day, every day and it’s a challenge – I like that. Someone I used to work with once said that I could “see a deal,” and I do have a pretty good sense for putting big deals together and enjoy that challenge.
LD: Did you start working on bigger partner placements and expansions early on or did you transition to it? What does it take to make that type of transition into the more sophisticated deals?
MJ: When I joined what was the largest search firm in my home city of Milwaukee we had no candidates and no clients so I had to build that from scratch while learning the nuts and bolts of how to be a recruiter. So, I got on the phone and started to talk to friends, and friends of friends and built relationships. I was always interested in the differences between firms – I was the law student who would read The American Lawyer – and that interest proved useful when moving associates to new firms.
I focused on associates at first – I was basically a third-year associate myself – but that changed when I somehow got to know the people at McGuire Woods in Charlotte, N.C. They were my first major repeat customer and asked me to do a bunch of partner work there that led to doing partner work for them in D.C., Tysons Corners and New York. It was through that relationship that I became known to what was then Major Hagen & Africa.
LD: Can you discuss your time at what is now Major Lindsey & Africa? Was there a mentor who was influential in your career or can you share any lessons or experiences that stand out as particularly meaningful?
MJ: Carter Brown, the CEO of Major Lindsey & Africa, cold-called me one day in August and a few months later MLA had a Milwaukee office! I enjoyed my time at MLA and got to work with some great people like Chuck Fanning in San Francisco and also got to mobilize teams of recruiters to do some pretty cool projects in Florida, Texas, Arizona and elsewhere. Part of being in a large organization is that you are exposed to a wide variety of styles and experiences and skills and talents and you can add those tools to your own tool box.
LD: What led you and Sabina to start your own business instead of staying with established firms? Can you share what some of the biggest challenges have been? And what about any advice for recruiters who might be interested in following your path?
MJ: Both Sabina and I had gotten to the point in our respective careers that we had built our own brands that were distinct from our firms. We also had ideas about how we wanted to do some things differently in an organization. I don’t think that we really have had any challenges with respect to actually doing the job of recruiting and, in fact, both Sabina and I have substantially increased our practices from where they were at our prior firms. Sometimes it is challenging to be a small company and deal with things like Payroll and IT and such but that is a small price to pay for the profitability and freedom that we enjoy. Finally, as anyone who starts a business knows, finding and hiring talent – particularly recruiter talent – is a challenge. As for advice, I would say that it can be a lonely job to do on your own so look for a small group of people that you get to know and trust before just going on your own.
LD: In your practice, what does it take to successfully help firms with major complex matters like mergers or expansions with lots of money on the line?
MJ: Trust is one of those things that is hard to earn and easy to lose, and we are cognizant of that. We are lucky enough to work with a cast of clients that we have worked with for a long period of time. We have history with most of our clients and that history is largely good. Helping them add good people who have stayed and been more productive than expected – that’s what we try to do and that is how we have earned the trust of our clients.
LD: When it comes to these deals or individual placements, are there common mistakes you see firms and partners make almost every time?
MJ: Absolutely. We try to help both sides of the equation to see where things are likely to go off the rails before they actually do but we are not always successful. We are agents of change and that is hard for people and also it’s hard for organizations, and that is a persistent challenge – helping both sides deal with a fear of change. I’m not sure this qualifies as a “persistent mistake” but deals consistently die because both sides – candidate and firm – want to allocate too much risk to the other.
LD: Are there trends you are seeing in your work in terms of the types of matters you are helping firms with this year?
MJ: Our firm does 20 to 30 transactions a year covering 50-100 total lawyers in about 10 different markets so it’s a good sample size but I’m not sure that I see any 2017 trends. We move significant partners and they are always in demand, no matter where they are or what their area of practice is.
LD: With placing government officials, what unique issues are involved with doing these successfully? How are these different than partner placements?
MJ: I love placing government officials and have done quite a bit of it throughout my career. When we are working with the typical lateral partner candidate, the most common alternative to the firms that we are presenting is staying put at their current firm. That alternative is typically not the case with government officials – they have typically decided to leave the government for one of many reasons and, in fact, most officials that I have worked with knew that they would be in the government for only a limited time before returning to private practice. That said, the biggest difference between representing a typical law firm partner with a portable book of business and a government official – even a highly placed, influential government official – is that the later has only their experience, skills, and reputation to trade on versus those things plus X-million dollars in business. For the government official, it is about convincing the firm that the future is very bright and we have been pretty good at that over time.
LD: Also, is this cyclical work based on changes in administrations, or are you seeing anything out of the ordinary in terms of people already wanting to leave the Trump Administration, given some of the turbulence?
MJ: We have not yet worked with any Trump administration officials although we do know several of them and also have friends and former candidates playing the waiting game as the administration continues to fill important legal positions. It is worth noting that the employment prospects for all but the most senior members of the Obama administration legal team were very challenging after the election.
LD: What do you do for fun outside the office? Are there certain ways you tend to spend your vacations or days off?
MJ: I like to play tennis and do so on a regular basis and I very much enjoy food and wine. Each summer Sabina and I take one husband and wife vacation and one vacation with our children so those are fun trips.
LD: Our “best of” guides are somewhat biased towards the biggest U.S. cities. I’ve heard great things about Milwaukee but have not spent much time there. Can you share a few things about it that you like?
MJ: Milwaukee, like many cities in the Upper Midwest, is a great place to be from. People are very friendly here, there really isn’t any traffic and life is pretty easy. Everyone knows me and us, and that is, for the most part, kind of nice. The weather is beautiful for six months out of the year and for those other six, I’m never more than a couple of weeks from time at home in L.A. with Sabina. Milwaukee offers a wonderful contrast to the hustle and bustle of L.A. home and also New York where I spend 40-plus days a year.