Divya Bala is a Senior Managing Director at Lippman Jungers, the legal recruiting firm formed by Sabina Lippman and Mark Jungers in 2011. Bala has found success in this competitive field by developing a deep institutional knowledge and maintaining relationships throughout the industry, treating each interaction as a learning opportunity. She has a law degree from Saint Louis University.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the work you do with Lippman Jungers?
Divya Bala: I started with Lippman Jungers in 2013 and never looked back. My first full year was 2014 and even through a short maternity leave, I closed a couple deals. Since then, I have been more productive every year. I learned very early on from Sabina the importance of maintaining productivity standards and really sticking to that formula every year. We are experts on market trends and have firms who call us just to have strategic conversations on achieving short and long-term success in particular markets and practices.
LD: How would you describe your style as a recruiter?
DB: Sabina is very systematic in her approach whereas Mark is more social in his way of working with candidates. My style falls somewhere in between. I am a hybrid of the two but have learned so much from their deep institutional knowledge of firms across the country.
LD: Legal recruiting is an increasingly crowded field. How do you stand out?
DB: I have heard from numerous candidates that my perseverance is what made them return my call, but I also really try to get to the crux of what makes each person tick.
LD: What trends you are seeing in the industry these days?
DB: When I first started in 2013, it seemed like all anyone could speak about was corporate, especially private equity. Every firm would call us asking for the corporate partner with a big client following. Now the pendulum is starting to swing and although a lot of firms still want corporate, we are getting asked for litigation partners and trial lawyers again.
LD: How did you first get interested in legal recruiting?
DB: After graduating law school and working for the public defender’s office, I was ready to find my next job and knew that I wanted to do something different, potentially related to legal consulting. I had no idea that legal recruiting was an option. I ended up working for a large recruiting company recruiting attorneys for five years. I found myself in a management position surrounded by female mentors with rich backgrounds. It was the best training possible because in those five years, I learned how to cold call, hit large call volume targets, identify trends in the legal market, and how to talk to virtually anyone within the hierarchy of law firm partnership. I learned from every attorney and partner I spoke to and formed deep personal relationships with a number of attorneys in Los Angeles.
I was ready for my next challenge and wanted to get into partner recruiting specifically. I spoke to a female partner friend of mine who advised that if I wanted to get into partner recruiting, I should speak to Sabina Lippman. After working on a search together and a few meetings with her and her partner Mark, it became clear that they were the best in the business… by a wide margin.
LD: What do you find satisfying about this work? What keeps you excited about it?
DB: I have always liked being a problem solver. In the case of recruiting, many partners do not yet know or investigate the market enough to understand they are being undercompensated or that there is another platform on which they could build their practices much more effectively.
I especially like working with firm lifers. I have worked with many partners who have never moved before. It is so fulfilling to be able to bring them opportunities they would not have otherwise known about or thought about in a static career. In some of these cases, as they started to explore the market and, in our conversations, they realized they were not only being under-valued because they had grown up at one firm but also under-compensated. I worked with one partner who was sub-40 and because his book was on a huge upward trajectory every year for the past three years, I was able to double his compensation. I have now worked with partners at every level of compensation including folks at the very top of the compensation scale at their firms.
Many of the partners I work with end up becoming friends because we speak almost every day when we are working together. Along the way, I get to know their families. They turn to me for counsel on everything throughout the process, and I become a trusted advisor.
Another thing I love about recruiting is that I have a lot of partners who initially say “no” to speaking to a particular firm because they heard something negative about that firm years ago, or they are relying on dated information about a firm. If I really believe a firm is right for someone especially because of my current knowledge of that particular firm, I enjoy convincing them to take one meeting. In many cases, people whom I have worked with end up having that one conversation with a firm they never wanted to speak with and end up deciding to join that firm. It has happened to me more times than I can count and it always reminds me exactly why I love recruiting. I learned that from Sabina—you have to go with your gut and educate partners on what they might not see immediately at face value.
Finally, I am beyond fortunate to have had some amazing female mentors along the way. Sabina is a mentor and it’s been an outstanding opportunity to learn from her and work with her. I have had examples of female mentors throughout my career who have taught me to put the partner, as a person, at the center of my decision-making. I focus on what is best for the person, what he or she can offer to a firm, and what the firm can offer to the partner. That guidance and mentorship has enabled and inspired me become a powerful force in recruitment.