By Salle Yoo, Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area Newsletter June 2012
Jay is a Managing Director for the In-House Practice Group at Major Lindsey & Africa (MLA), a leader in legal recruiting with 21 offices around the world, including San Francisco. MLA is known for its senior level placements -- generally at the general counsel level or a very specialized position. One of its most recent placements was of Justin Choi, as Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Anixter International, Inc., a Fortune 500 global supplier of communications and security products.
I recently sat down with Jay to discuss MLA’s diversity initiative, what she likes best about legal recruiting and the best venue to DJ in San Francisco.
How did you become interested in legal recruiting?
After graduating from UC Hastings College of the Law, I litigated for five years--first as an associate for [former AABA President] Phil Shinn, then a stint at Gordon & Rees, followed by a role as Legal Affairs Staff Attorney with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Then, I decided to take some time off from the law and explore some of my creative interests--I opened a small business that focused on music and fashion and did some traveling.
During this “time-off”, I had some downtime while running my business, so I picked up some contract legal work on the side. After a while, the agency that I was working with, Robert Half International, asked me consider joining them as a legal recruiter.
What do you like best about your job?
Helping someone to find their dream job is incredibly fulfilling. Also, this job allows me to work with people -- which, frankly, I did not get to do in my litigation jobs.
What do you find most challenging about being a legal recruiter?
The challenge is that each in-house search is unique, so the work involved is different each time. At the outset of any search, I spend a lot of time with each client learning about the needs and personality of the specific legal department and then we try to go out find the “ideal person” that the client has requested. In addition to meeting substantive and experience requirements, the key to success is to find the right personality match for the client.
I’ve always had my eye on MLA -- it’s the industry premier legal recruiting firm. I was also attracted by the opportunity to work with colleagues across MLA’s offices, on national searches. Currently, I have a general counsel search going on for clients in Tucson AZ and Garden Grove CA, as well as searches here in the Bay Area. We just closed a position in Maryland and I have begun to collaborate with our Asia offices. In fact, I’m headed to Korea and Hong Kong over the summer to meet with colleagues in those offices, and hopefully, work on business development opportunities together.
Also, I personally find MLA such an inspiring place. For example, MLA’s diversity initiative -- it’s a commitment to a principle that I strongly support.
What is the MLA Diversity Initiative?
MLA has always been keenly interested in diversity, which it defines to include people of color, women and LGBT persons. There is a lot of work to be done in this area. In 2011, within the Fortune 500, only 12 CEOs were women. So I think it’s important to recognize minorities in executive roles in the Fortune 500, like Justin Choi. Also, considering that women have comprised nearly half of the law school classes for over two decades, there is a long ways to go to get women GCs onboard.
MLA wants to be a change agent for strategic diversity -- meaning, we look for qualified diverse candidates to place with our clients. We also work to make sure that our clients are interested in diversity among their ranks.
Our global recruiting efforts are also part of our diversity initiative. Because we have offices around the world, we have access to candidates from around the world and we have made some significant placements, including Dean Frank Wu, Dean of Hastings.
How did the Justin Choi placement come about?
We are very excited about the placement of Justin Choi as GC of Anixter! Paul Williams, the Managing Partner for MLA’s Chicago Office had met Justin years before and was just very, very impressed with Justin. When this position at Anixter came up, Paul and Judy Allen the Managing Partner of the San Francisco office, really championed and supported Justin in the process.
Some of our AABA Members may be looking for a legal recruiter to work with -- What do you think are some of the characteristics of a good recruiter?
Most recruiters are “people” people -- in selecting a recruiter, you should choose one that you feel a connection with. Assess whether they understand where you are in your career and who you are as a person and where you want to go with your career. Also, make sure that it is someone that you can trust.
What is some advice that you’d give an attorney who is looking for an in-house job? How should she/he prepare herself?
Most in-house jobs require a specific skill set. Generally there are more opportunities for those with corporate backgrounds, IP and compliance. It’s more unusual for in-house litigation positions to be available. So, in short, look to develop your legal expertise in areas that may be of value to an in-house legal department.
Talk to people who are in house already and see if it’s a good fit for you. It’s not for everyone. The lifestyle and pace is very different from a law firm; sometimes it’s regarded as easier, better for a work/life balance, but that’s not true of all companies. You really have to understand the business and the characteristics of the specific company that you’re looking at.
What areas do you think are growth areas for in-house positions?
For general counsel positions, because of where we are, the positions tend to be in the technology space. But jobs in the finance sector are strong and real estate seems to be coming on.
In addition to your commitment to your job, I have a few questions for you related to some of your other interests. You are really into food - what is your latest favorite restaurant?
Frances – it’s close to my home; it can be difficult to get in – but, my strategy is to just go on OpenTable every once in a while and grab reservations two months ahead. Also, my boyfriend and I recently went down to Half Moon Bay and had some really good meals at Café Gibraltar and Barbara’s Fish Trap.
You’re also known around SF as a DJ -- do you have a favorite SF venue to DJ at?
I really like Monarch - which is a newish bar/club at Mission & 6th -- Two floors; downstairs is more like a plush lounge, not too slick - nice, urban place where you can enjoy the music on a good sound system.
Thank you very much for your time Jay, and best wishes to MLA on its diversity initiative.
This interview originally appeared in the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area Newsletter June 2012.