Jacquelyn Knight is all about relationships. She came to the world of legal recruiting after working as a litigator for the National Labor Relations Board, then taking a decade off to raise three children.
When she was ready to refocus on her career, she was still interested in the legal industry but looking for something different. She worked with a career counselor to determine her various aptitudes and he pointed her towards the world of legal recruiting.
It turned out to be a great fit, especially once she moved to partner recruiting and found an easy kinship with her clients, many of whom became long-term friends.
Knight is now a Partner at Major, Lindsey & Africa, where she handles partner moves, new office openings, and mergers, all while working to foster collaboration between her global offices – even throughout the current pandemic.
Lawdragon: Tell us about the work you do for MLA.
Jacquelyn Knight: I regularly place high-profile partners and groups, mostly at global, Am Law firms. I am a partner at the largest recruiting firm in the world. We are consistently ranked as the top recruiting firm. We have a great brand and a really talented team. Although I grew up as a litigator, I work across practice groups, with litigation and corporate partners. I also work with attorneys moving into private practice from government positions.
I am very close to my law firm clients who often give me repeat, targeted work on strategic searches. Many of my directives come from law firm Chairs, Managing Partners and Practice Group leaders. On the candidate side, many of the attorneys I work with are referred to me through partners in my network. My MLA colleagues often call on me to collaborate on high profile partner and group deals.
LD: How did you get into this type of work?
JK: I grew up working in the service industry, in retail and at numerous busy restaurants. I liked the hustle and rhythm of the crew on busy shifts. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the team and working together to provide a great experience for the customer. At one elite restaurant, I worked my way up from bussing tables to Captain. I learned about customer service and working in high pressure situations. In college, I studied economics and theater. I studied classic ballet as a kid and I always loved the combination of music and theater. I went to college near Lincoln Center, where I was surrounded by great minds and creativity. It was an incredible foundation for the work I would do later in life.
Following law school, I became a litigator at the National Labor Relations Board. I learned that I was adept at juggling many cases, mediating and settling disputes. As young attorneys we went out in the field and took statements, ran elections, argued cases before Administrative Law Judges, appeared in Federal Court, heard Representation cases and wrote decisions. It was a fascinating job full of new cases and opportunities to learn more. I then took ten years off to raise three children. During that time, I did volunteer work and fundraising; I also sat on a number of boards in my community. One day when reading The New York Times – in the old days when people actually read the physical paper – I saw an ad of a career consultant. “Are you an attorney who wants a new career?” I responded to the ad and met with the career consultant. He was 80 years old and I was his last client. I took many written tests and assessments over two months. I tested off the charts in crisis management skills and math problems. At the end of the process, he told me I should become a legal recruiter. I had no idea what the job entailed. I researched, interviewed, and received multiple offers. Then it was off to the races.
LD: Incredible. And it sounds like you really enjoy this second career?
JK: Absolutely. I started my career at MLA in 2005, working with associates. I then transitioned to partner work in 2008. Working with partners, everything just clicked for me. We spoke the same language. We were the same age. We were attorneys. We confronted similar life struggles and successes. It was a just a great fit. I enjoyed the intellectual and social aspects of meeting new partner candidates and clients. I’m Italian, and many of my family and friends are in the restaurant business, which led to fabulous meetings over great food and wine.
I took on many challenging assignments and threw myself into searches. I read and studied everything. I waited for articles on partner moves to post every morning. Over time, those articles were about my deals.
LD: That must have been a great feeling. Is there a placement from your career that stands out as a favorite or particularly memorable for some reason?
JK: I’ve worked on mergers, opened offices for firms, and placed hundreds of partners. However, one placement stands out for me because of how my colleague and I closed it. I worked with a female attorney. She was just great, both personally and professionally. In the end she had three offers. The best fitting firm was an offer 25 percent below the others. We sat in an MLA conference room and discussed the compensation differential. I called the Managing Partner of the firm with the lower offer. His assistant said, “He will meet you now at a bar at Grand Central and he has about ten minutes before his next meeting.” I ran out of my conference room and sprinted five blocks – not an easy task in a suit and heels – praying he would wait and hear me out. I got there in the nick of time and made an impassioned plea for the extra compensation that I needed to close the deal. The whole time he looked down at his phone, typing away. When he looked up he said, “We are done.” I didn’t know what he meant. He said “You’ve got the money. Go close the deal.” I ran back to my office conference room and we celebrated. Today, ten years later, that partner is now a leader at the firm. I still smile when I think of that sprint down 44th Street.
LD: That is such a good story about that New York hustle! How has your workflow changed since the pandemic? Have industry moves picked up or slowed down?
JK: Last month, my colleague and I closed a group deal that was done 100 percent virtually. I have several more “virtual deals” in the pipeline, with two closing this month. The virtual interview has most definitely arrived. Meetings can move quickly due to the lack of travel. While a few firms have put the brakes on hiring during the start of the pandemic, most firms are taking advantage of the situation, pushing strong partners to the offer stage. If the candidate is a good strategic fit, they are moving through processes quickly. Currently, Restructuring, Finance, Health Care, and Life Sciences are very busy. I placed a high profile commercial litigator last month.
That said, there are always huge swings at my level and you need to maintain a long game mindset. Relationship building is key. Some deals take years to close. Even the best recruiters will lose a deal on occasion and I try to keep a sense of humor and not beat myself up when that happens. Sometimes the deal is not lost, but just a delayed placement that closes the following year. Oh – and I celebrate every win, usually over a great meal.
LD: Are you involved in any initiatives at your firm that are meaningful to you?
JK: I’ve been very involved with training and mentoring at my firm. I’ve made great new relationships and strengthened old ones. I run market calls with my colleagues from 27 offices. We share intel across continents. It’s fascinating to hear from my colleagues all over the globe. It’s so interesting to learn what they are doing for shared law firm clients.
I am very fortunate that I am called by different colleagues and clients every week to work on new searches. It keeps my practice diversified and exciting. I never know what the next day will bring. I really enjoy collaborating with friends on searches. We all have different strengths and bring different backgrounds and experiences to the search. Every time I work with a colleague I learn something new and grow as a recruiter.
LD: Did you have mentors early on?
JK: My parents were teachers and always had side jobs. I listened to my dad close real estate deals on the phone. I listened to my mom deal with customers at a business my parents owned on Shelter Island, New York. A few restaurant owners on Shelter Island influenced my view of needing to be “all in” for your staff and customers. They gave 100 percent every day. I was so impressed by their professionalism and the mantras – the client is always right, even when they weren’t. I learned lessons of resilience and humility from all of these mentors early on.
When I joined Major, Lindsey & Africa, Jon Lindsey hired and mentored me. I tried my best to replicate what he did with candidates and clients. I knew if I could follow his lead and earn their respect and trust, I would be successful. He is so smart and such a class act. Jon has always been a great resource and a cheerleader who is genuinely happy for my successes. He encouraged me to be myself and inspired me to make partner.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
JK: I travel all over the world. My daughter has lived in Europe and Asia and it gave me an opportunity to explore these continents over the last decade. I love to be near or on the water. At heart I will always be a (Shelter) island kid. I am happiest when I cook for my family and friends. I love spending time out with clients and candidates and experiencing great food and conversation. Many of my work contacts are my close friends today. I love keeping in contact with them and hearing about the changes in their lives. I am forever grateful to the 80-year-old career counselor. By the way, I still keep in contact with him, too.