When a managing partner of a top tier law firm needs a new rainmaker, they only need to make one call: Sabina Lippman.

The reason is simple – Lippman, co-founder of partner recruiting firm Lippman Jungers Bala, is efficient, laser-focused, and tapped into the best talent on the market.

Her track-record speaks for itself. She recently placed Nicole Brookshire, ranked by Deal Point Data as the top IPO issuer-side tech lawyers on the East Coast, at Davis Polk; Anthony Norris and Christopher Rile, highly respected partners in private equity, at Sidley; and leading capital markets lawyers Rick Kline and Sarah Axtell into the Silicon Valley offices of Latham & Watkins. Just to name a few.

With an engineering degree and MBA from MIT and a J.D. from Michigan Law, Lippman is known by colleagues for her development and use of effective systems. (Fun fact: The United States Air Force is still using several of the information systems that Lippman created.)

Lippman has the ability to understand the needs of the busiest and most profitable firms in New York, California, Texas and elsewhere in the U.S. and globally.

Lippman is in regular communication with law firm leadership and top-tier attorneys in the hottest practice areas. In all these deep relationships, clients and candidates alike respect her ability to cut to the chase. “The time of the partners we work with is their most precious resource and I try hard not to waste it,” she says. “When we reach out to a client or a potential partner candidate about an opportunity, we make sure that it is firing on as many cylinders as possible.”

She and her husband, Mark Jungers, founded their firm in 2011 and brought on Divya Bala two years later. The firm handles partner and practice group placements and new office openings, focused on top lawyers and the most heavyweight firms. 

Lippman Jungers Bala has grown dramatically since we last spoke with Lippman seven years ago, particularly in the ever-crucial New York market. We sat down with her recently to get her insights on hot practices and markets, from her front-and-center view on the movement of the world’s best legal talent.

Lawdragon: What are the hottest practices areas in terms of placements these days?

Sabina Lippman: Private equity, public M&A, cap markets. On the litigation side, white collar, antitrust, and high stakes trial work. Anything connecting to life sciences, especially health care, both M&A and regulatory.

One trend we’re seeing is that the top-tier firms in terms of profitability are opening up an increasing lead in attracting the star players these days. This is because of two things, primarily – a bigger compensation delta compared to firms the next tier down, and their strength in practices that are difficult to grow from scratch (or close to it). That can be hard to compete with.

LD: Is there a way for the mid-tier firms to stay competitive for top talent?

SL: Typically we’re in the business of helping people move upstream. Partners recognize that a firm may be paying to get them in the door, but if the overall balance sheet and fundamentals aren’t there, it might not be sustainable.

But we occasionally will have a search where a firm that may not be top of AmLaw in terms of profitability will have a unique opportunity where there is a real 1+1=3. The best way to succeed in these cases is to get as personalized as possible. We look for synergies, with industries or clients, where a person would have an advantage with a firm that has expertise in a particular area.

For some candidates, it’s attractive to be able to put their fingerprints on the glass, to lead and build a practice. If they feel like a cog in the wheel of a big operation, they may want to move to a firm where they are part of the growth effort.

For some candidates, it’s attractive to be able to put their fingerprints on the glass, to lead and build a practice. If they feel like a cog in the wheel of a big operation, they may want to move to a firm where they are part of the growth effort, perhaps joining as head or co-head of the practice, even if that firm is lower in profits per equity partner, as long as they are paid fairly and attractively.

LD: Is there a trend towards more practice specialization or are firms valuing more generalist partners these days?

SL: It depends on the practice area and whether the specialization is based on industry or type of work. People in public M&A often work in a number of different industries, such as consumer products, tech or real estate. High stakes trial lawyers are attractive in and of themselves as generalists and often don't play in any particular ponds, so they’re working across entertainment, tech, financial services, etc. – although some will focus in one of these areas. Similarly with private equity, because those clients will have investments in all different kinds of specialty areas.

That said, you occasionally find someone who focuses in, say, real estate or energy-related private equity, but more likely it'll be someone who's working with private equity firms who invest in many different kinds of industries. In terms of specialists within a particular practice area, there is increasing interest in someone who has built a reputation in a particular niche in a hot practice area like PE or life sciences. You might have someone who specifically does benefits work in the context of private equity or who does debt finance work or private equity tax. Or in life sciences, someone who does regulatory, litigation, tech, transactional, M&A, or something even more specialized such as someone who focuses on life sciences regulatory work supporting private equity firms, and so on.

Cap markets is getting more specialized. We’re seeing clearer differentiation around, are we looking for someone who's on the bank side, the issuer side, someone who has a tech specialty? Once firms have their general practices set up, they want to hone in on what areas are most strategic.

LD: Do you find that firms’ diversity and inclusion initiatives are impacting partner recruiting at all?

SL: Yes, we’re getting there. I've had the good fortune over the past several years to work with a much greater number of female and diverse partners. They’re seeing real receptivity, not just lip service to those initiatives. In the past there was more of a focus on overall numbers and percentages that would often not translate into really meaningful roles, but now firms are saying, we would like to see female and diverse partners in leadership roles on litigation and deal teams. The percentages of our female and diverse placements compared to past years are pretty staggering, which is really exciting and encouraging.

LD: That's fantastic. Do you find yourself giving advice to female lawyers or lawyers of color who might have trouble marketing themselves or building their books of business?

SL: I tend to give more advice to female partners, partly because I can speak from that perspective, and also because that’s often where you find the biggest confidence or risk-taking gap. I also care a lot about the wage gap issues as they relate to female and male partners.

I always want to make sure my candidates understand all the opportunities that are open to them, both based on their strengths and what they can bring from a diversity standpoint. I help them see the full landscape, including opportunities that they might not have known existed.

There’s a famous study that men apply for a job when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them.

Of course the wage gap is impacted by employer discrimination, conscious or unconscious, but the confidence gap is a very real factor.

So that can mean there's less of a likelihood for a woman to jump to a new firm, even if that change means a more significant opportunity in terms of practice building, compensation, leadership and taking her practice to a new level. It’s very gratifying for me to be able to counsel a woman through that process and get her to where she deserves to be.

And we’re moving in the right direction, for sure. I’m seeing recently, as I’m placing women and people of color into better positions, then others in their circle realize what’s possible, they see there’s a sincere interest at the top of these firms in increasing diversity, and they become ready to make those moves themselves.

LD: How about new office openings? Any trends coming out of the pandemic?

SL: We've seen a few markets becoming more popular, for a variety of reasons. Centers of tech like Northern CA, Miami and Austin have seen a number of openings as that becomes a strategic part of firms’ practices.

We can understand what is said, and more importantly what is not said, and find you a candidate who is really on point. We've done it again and again, for the pickiest firms in the world.

Part of all this movement was sped up by the pandemic because you often can now work out of an area where your firm may not have an office. People are seeing that being remote is not all that bad. They can hop on a plane when they need to.

Miami has become particularly hot lately in part because, in addition to the existing strong talent market there, you have New Yorkers who have really always split their time between the two because they thought, pre-Covid, they needed a New York presence, and that’s shifting.

LD: What would you like law firms to know before working with Lippman Jungers?

SL: We are not out to waste your time and we work very hard to exceed expectations. If you share with us your needs and give us more color on the culture and the specific type of person you're looking for, we'll be able to laser focus on that. We can understand what is said, and more importantly what is not said, and find you a candidate who is really on point. We've done it again and again, for the pickiest firms in the world.

LD: And what would you like candidates to consider before working with your firm, or another recruiting firm?

SL: Do your research. There are no entry barriers to this profession; you don’t need a specific degree. Our people all have law degrees or significant legal industry experience, but that’s not always the case in this industry and while it’s useful, it is one of many important data points. So, even if you get a call from a recruiter whose timing is really good, because you’re having a rough day, you’re questioning your place at your firm, and you’re inclined to listen to their pitch – still, do your research to make sure they are a legit player. Your career is probably the most important thing in your life next to your family, so don’t put it in the hands of a practitioner who’s not at your level.

LD: You’re obviously at the top of your game. What would you say it takes to really thrive in the partner recruiting space? What makes Lippman Junger Bala so successful?

SL: Work ethic, credentials, and a high EQ. You’re working with people who have incredible resumes, but they’re practicing law most of the time; they haven’t been through this process of hiring or trying to be hired for over 20 years. While they may have close friends at many firms, they typically will not know the intricacies of those firms’ processes. So, they often need some coaching. You need to really know your stuff if they’re going to feel comfortable listening to you.  

The EQ comes in because you need to truly understand what somebody wants, what would motivate them, including the things that they’re not necessarily articulating. My partner (and husband) Mark Jungers has been a key player in this field for over twenty years and is someone who has the highest EQ of anyone I know. He can spend 20 minutes with a partner candidate or a client, and know what makes them tick and what the universe of interesting firms or partner candidates would look like for them. Our partner Divya Bala, who joined us in 2013, has been an absolute rockstar and has an extremely impressive placement record. We are very fortunate that a good friend, who is also a partner I placed, introduced Divya to us and saw that she was special.

I’m very excited about the team we have now. We have a really competitive group of folks, who I think can be real forces in the field on a national level. Jeff Conta leads our Asia practice and works with me and Mark predominantly in Chicago and New York. Mary Copeland, in our New York office, has been instrumental in identifying and working with a number of stellar candidates. Success builds on itself. There’s no way around it, you need to prove yourself in this business. Starting out over twenty years ago, we did all the cold calls. We now are fortunate to have the track record and the recognition such that, aside from all our standing relationships, we now get calls ourselves, from really meaningful players. We get incredible referrals. It takes time, and it takes being really good at what you do. There’s no way around it: If you want to play in the biggest sandbox, you need to be the best.