When Jessica Chin Somers was 14 years old, she discovered that she was good at running. Not just “good” — more like Forrest Gump when he said he “just felt like running” and kept going kind of good. She started running competitively and hasn’t stopped, having completed 10 marathons and over 20 half-marathons. “Legal recruiting is a lot like running a marathon. You can do sprint recruiting and make a ton of quick placements, but whenever you hit a bump in the industry, you will lose your stride. Often, fast placement candidates don’t come back and those clients don’t call again. Robert [Kinney, President of Kinney Recruiting] understands that and prioritizes quality over quantity and building long-lasting relationships. That’s something that I really appreciate about working at Kinney Recruiting. Long-term placements mean that you are continuously working, learning and networking.” Jessica is in legal recruiting for the long run and despite not having intentionally set out to become a recruiter, she’s dominating the field. As a Managing Director at Kinney Recruiting, she matches attorneys to law firm and in-house opportunities in New York, nationwide and internationally.
Jessica was born and raised in Hong Kong, but in many ways she grew up in two worlds. “I went to the Chinese International School. It’s now well known, but back in the day it was this new bilingual Chinese and English school. The concept was that you would do every subject in two languages. Take history for example — you would have two history classes, one in which you would learn about Chinese history in Chinese and the other Western history in English. One of the reasons I joined Kinney Recruiting was because of our strong connection to Asia and our success there. I really wanted to work on searches in East and Southeast Asia and place talented people nationally and abroad, specifically in places like Singapore and Hong Kong. Because I grew up in Hong Kong, I have a real connection to it. I understand it and what it’s like to live there.” In a way, Jessica is still connected to two worlds but she’s living the best of both. While she still believes that Hong Kong is the greatest city in the world, and if you haven’t been you’re missing out, she loves her life in New York City. “Manhattan is amazing. There is so much to do here and my favorite thing in the world is that I get to take my children to Central Park every single day. At the same time, I still have this really strong connection to Hong Kong, both personally and professionally.”
After several family visits to the USA, 14-year-old Jessica transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy for high school and fell in love with writing. Being a lover of language and legislation, Jessica found her sweet spot with law school. “Being a good lawyer means having excellent attention to detail and having a deep understanding of language and wording. When practicing, your use of language can shape exactly what a client wants in a very elegant way and certain words hold a deeper meaning — that’s the art of practicing law.” She went on to earn her BA from Johns Hopkins and receive her JD from American University Washington College of Law, where she was an Articles Editor of the American University International Law Review. Continuing her challenge-hunting streak, she also earned an LLM in Taxation from Georgetown University Law Center. After graduating from Georgetown, Jessica joined a law firm in Rockville, a Maryland city near Washington, D.C., where she represented individuals and small businesses in federal, state, and international tax law matters. “I really enjoyed practicing and working with clients, especially individuals and small and medium businesses. I love working with people and I find tax incredibly interesting because it’s constantly changing. Living in D.C., you really see the changes and you feel like you are a part of the whole legislative process. Whenever there are new changes in the law, tax attorneys get alerts and sometimes I’d get 4 alerts in a single day. You can’t look away for a second. The fast pace and intellectual challenge was tough but it was also really fun.”
In 2015, Jessica and her husband packed all of their belongings into a moving van and left D.C. for a walk-up apartment in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Jessica’s husband had been transferred to New York City for his job and because there wasn’t a universal bar or reciprocity back then, Jessica sat for the New York bar. “When I was moving to New York, like many people I found a recruiter. After I had passed the bar, I started interviewing for a variety of different jobs, from Biglaw firms to government agencies, when something interesting happened. My recruiter said, ‘You know, we also have an opening in our company for a recruiter,’’ and my first reaction was to say, ‘Hold on, you want to submit me for this firm job but you’re also asking if I might be interested in this whole other career?’ The truth is that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work law firm hours anymore and recruiting presented this interesting challenge with the bonus of more balance. I figured that if I could make this work for the first three months then I can turn it into a career, so I turned down a job and started recruiting.” Jessica turned out to be a top-performing legal recruiter in the New York office of another legal recruiting agency where she placed attorneys in law firms and corporations in New York City.
When Robert Kinney learned that Jessica is an alumna of Phillips Exeter Academy, he couldn’t help but smile. Being an alumnus of Phillips Academy at Andover himself, the collaboration between two people from schools that had considered each other to be rivals for 144 years sounded like the makings of a great team. And they are. Since joining Kinney Recruiting in 2018, Jessica has placed a plethora of candidates but one stands out as her favorite placement to date. “I once placed a female partner with an AmLaw 100 law firm in New York. The firm was looking for a partner with a niche finance practice and using my network, I managed to figure out who the players were. My market knowledge helped gain the candidate’s trust and despite other agencies submitting their candidates, I was pretty confident that the person I had presented would end up getting the job. She did.” Ultimately, Jessica believes that being a recruiter is something you’re born to do. “It’s a calling. Some people are naturally good at legal recruiting and you find out very quickly if you’re one of them. I honestly don’t think it’s very different from practicing law. I often think back to something that my property professor said when I was 1L. He advised that when you’re dividing real estate , you need to look at the family and take note of how they communicate with each other, not just what they’re telling you. What they’re doing to each other informs you about what they really want to do with the property. I think that the same thing applies to recruiting.”
Whether you’re the type of lawyer who wants to have worked on a case that’s splashed across the Wall Street Journal or you prefer more of a low-profile, lifestyle firm, it’s Jessica’s goal to find the right fit for both the client and the candidate. “Being a good listener, understanding people and being on top of industry changes are essential. As a candidate, you don’t necessarily need to know what you want to do, you just need to know that you want to do something. Part of my job is helping you figure out what that move looks like and what’s available to make that happen. Having practiced in a law firm environment, I really know what it feels like and I can spot the good firms. A good employer is one who is consistent in who they are. I think the one thing that a lot of recruiters don’t have is that law firm experience – the pressure of billing hours, the pressure of being wrong, having clients pay you money for your minutes. Understanding that environment and being able to think and feel like a candidate is really important.” Jessica continues to help numerous candidates advance their careers nationwide and around the world. One position she is particularly excited about is a Special Situations M&A role at a large firm in New York. The practice represents private equity funds and financial institutions in their investments into distressed companies. “I try to be a forward-thinking recruiter, and attorneys with Special Situations expertise are going to find their skills in demand during a downturn in the market.” If you would like to know more about this position or would like to get in contact with Jessica, you can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica is a candidate’s dream, able to think like a candidate, search like a recruiter, and use her Midas touch to turn any opportunity into gold. Maybe the secret to Jessica’s success is being on the constant lookout for a good old-fashioned challenge and being the winner she is, we can’t help but keep watching her go for gold.