Jackson Walker heads into the second quarter of the year on a lateral partner-hiring hot streak.
The “Texas-only” firm has added six partners in 2022 after a year keeping headcount relatively flat. The firm only grew by two lawyers last year, according to recently released Texas Lawbook 50 data, after consecutive years of double-digit increases (14 in 2020 and 20 in 2019) that vaulted Jackson Walker into the No. 2 spot for Texas lawyer headcount.
Last week the firm recruited New York lawyer Rebecca Blake Chaikin from Kirkland & Ellis to join the firm’s Houston office. The firm has also signed real estate-finance partner Courtney Bristow, immigration partner Kelly Cobb and wealth-planning and fiduciary-litigation partners Sarah Patel Pacheco, Kathleen Tanner Beduze and Joshua Flores.
In addition to its early lateral-hiring success this year, Jackson Walker promoted 14 new partners, the largest class of promotions in the firm’s history.
“It’s been an exciting 2022 so far at Jackson Walker,” Bridgette Stahlman, Jackson Walker’s chief of recruiting and lateral partner integration, said. “We’ve had the opportunity to welcome many exceptional partners to the firm. All of them exemplify what we look for at Jackson Walker – great team players with a strong commitment toward client service and development.”
Stahlman shared her perspective on recruiting in the crazy Texas legal market in an expanded Q&A with The Texas Lawbook. The JW recruiting chief has hired more than 75 partners since the firm created the position for her in 2015.
The Texas Lawbook: How did you become the chief of partner recruiting and integration?
Bridgette Stahlman (pictured): I started with Jackson Walker as an associate in 2000. I took some time off to have three children and then ran into our managing partner, Wade Cooper, and he asked me when I was coming back to work. I was extremely excited about the opportunity to come back to Jackson Walker in 2015 and develop a new expertise as the chief of partner recruiting and integration.
The Lawbook: How has the lateral market in Texas changed since you started as chief of partner recruiting and integration?
Stahlman: It is significantly more competitive. Texas continues to have a strong economy and we have seen a number of international and national firms opening offices in key Texas cities.
The Lawbook: Do you have a team of lawyers/staff you work closely with in recruiting? If so, who are those people?
Stahlman: Yes. On the staff side, my team includes a lateral partner-recruiting manager and a lateral partner-recruiting coordinator. We work very closely with the firm managing partner, city managing partners and the practice-group leaders.
The Lawbook: What are two or three key things you look for in recruiting laterals?
Stahlman: Every law firm has its own intangible culture, and we always look for lawyers who are a good fit, team players and who have similar goals when it comes to serving clients. Additionally, we do our best to determine that the lateral is an excellent attorney. The third item we look at is whether the lateral’s practice is an economic fit for JW.
The Lawbook: What are the challenges to successfully integrating new hires?
Stahlman: Successfully integrating laterals is a strength for Jackson Walker. The partner lateral-recruiting team works closely with all departments to ensure a smooth transition of the new partner’s clients and data, to make introductions to JW attorneys, and to help the lateral create a support team. COVID has made it a little more difficult to help the new partner create relationships with JW attorneys; however, like most firms, we are utilizing technology to supplement in-person meetings.
The Lawbook: Austin has been attracting strategic operations of Big Tech; corporate relocations/investment; private equity and venture capital firms; and now some of the country’s top law firms. Please describe the evolution of the Austin legal market.
Stahlman: The Austin legal market has seen exponential growth. Ten years ago, there were only a handful of national or international firms with an Austin office, but now we are seeing a new office announced for national firms on a frequent basis, creating even more of a competitive environment. Many of the national and international firms that have opened in Austin recently have been focused heavily on one or two practice areas. We pride ourselves on being the largest full-service firm in the Austin market.
The Lawbook: Jackson Walker’s Texas-only strategy is well known. How influential or persuasive has that commitment/vision been in your recruiting efforts?
Stahlman: Being a Texas-only firm is extremely instrumental in our recruiting efforts. We believe that it sets us apart from firms attempting to establish a new presence in Austin and the traditional Texas firms that have moved outside of Texas because we have stayed true to our roots and values.
The Lawbook: What is your favorite interview question?
Stahlman: My favorite interview question is anything that will open up the opportunity for me to let the candidate know why Jackson Walker is different and how we can address their current issues.
The Lawbook: What is the most frequently asked question of you by laterals you are courting?
Stahlman: “Can your firm support international clients?” We love this question because it gives us the opportunity to let candidates know the breadth of our client base and how we are able to fully support national and international clients.
The Lawbook: What are the emerging trends or developments in legal recruiting that you are paying close attention to?
Stahlman: We are starting to see a number of candidates who aren’t working with recruiters. They are typically lawyers we know through our legal work or involvement in community organizations. Sometimes they approach us directly, and other times we reach out to them.