The Force Awakens in Los Angeles at Sidley Austin

Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Over the past year, something has been happening at the Los Angeles office of Sidley Austin that has the legal community abuzz.

The firm added around 20 lawyers, an office in Century City and talent from Wall Street law firms such as Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy.

Today, its Los Angeles offices have about 170 lawyers, making it the biggest in the area for an out-of-state firm, according to partner Michael Kelley.

What the heck is going on?! — Big Law Business posed that question to Kelley and Sidley Austin’s Los Angeles co-managing partner Dan Clivner, an M&A lawyer who joined from Simpson Thacher in May.

“Sabina Lippman,” was the first name that came to Dan Clivner’s mind. “She has had a good year.”

The “good year” Clivner refers to has nothing to do with lawyering. Lippman received a law degree from University of Michigan School of Law, but does not practice at Sidley. Still, she has influenced its practice in more ways than most people know.

Lippman is a recruiter at Lippman Jungers LLC, a firm she founded in 2011 with her husband Mark Jungers, which specializes in placing lawyers at big law firms. Like other headhunting shops, the boutique profits from lawyer-movement: As a general rule, recruiters in the industry often earn 25 percent of the first-year compensation of a lawyer they place from one firm to the next.

For the rainmakers in Big Law who are in hot demand and earn millions, it’s easy to do the math. In 2014, Sidley’s average profits per partner were roughly $2 million, according to The American Lawyer, and Lippman this past year has placed eight partners at Sidley.

Alphabetically:

 

Dan Clivner, co-managing partner of Los Angeles — Simpson Thacher & Bartlett

Peter Benudiz, co-head of real estate — Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy

Clayton Friedman, regulatory partner — Manatt Phelps & Phillips

Chad Hummel, co-leader of Sidley’s new trial practice — Manatt Phelps & Phillips

Richard Petretti, finance partner — Morgan Lewis & Bockius

Joel Rothstein, real estate partner — Paul Hastings

Matt Thompson, co-head of media and entertainment practice — Stroock & Stroock & Lavan 

Russell “Rusty” Weiss, media partner — Morrison & Foerster

 

Not counting Lippman’s other placements for 2015, the Sidley moves alone would appear to put her earnings on par with a rainmaker at any elite law firm. 

They have also made her into a type of hero — like Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a scavenger who learns to use the force to move things and vanquish enemies.

Lippman declined to comment for the story, but Kelley said that the hires have given Sidley momentum and credibility in the market, making it easier to lure lawyers from competitors.

“If you attract top candidates, it sends a message that you are serious about investing in the market,” Kelley explained. He stressed, however, that the hires were strategic: “We saw an opportunity in LA” to expand in media, entertainment and private equity, he noted.

As for Lippman, the firm is set to throw a party for her next week at Nobu in Los Angeles — so as to keep her from going to the dark side. Clivner joked that some partners reacted to the reception, saying “Shouldn’t she host us for dinner?!”