Varnum's new director of recruiting brings broad and deep experience



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

An exciting life story that has taken her from Mississippi to New York City to Chicago, and now to Grand Rapids, has provided Katie Hoekstra with everything it takes to direct the recruiting efforts of all eight offices of Varnum.

Indeed, during her youth, Hoekstra lived in additional states, including Alabama and Georgia, as her father’s increasing responsibilities in the banking industry caused the family to move around. “It wasn’t easy always being the new kid on the block, but it gave me a sense of resilience and adaptability that I think has helped me out a lot,” she says.

After receiving a degree in English summa cum laude from the University of Mississippi, “Ole Miss,” Hoekstra followed her dream and moved to New York City.

Her first position there, as an executive assistant at an orthodontist office, grew less interesting to her after a fairly short time.

“It was a good first job, but that wasn’t really a career path,” she said. “But it gave me some time to pursue something else. So I thought going to law school was the answer. While I was taking the LSAT?and waiting to apply to law schools, I thought it
was a good idea to find a paralegal job or be an administrative assistant at a law firm. I was lucky enough to land in recruiting at Davis Polk.”

Davis Polk & Wardwell is a well-known New York-headquartered firm with almost 1000 attorneys. And after Hoekstra got back her LSAT results   – which she says were good but not as outstanding as she’d hoped – Hoekstra started rethinking her plans.

Again, fortune smiled on her as a superior in the recruiting department saw her potential and predicted that she would do well in that field. She decided to pursue it, and was quickly promoted to a recruiting assistant and then to a recruiting coordinator.
About that time, in 2006, Hoekstra went to a NALP conference, which really opened her eyes to the exciting possibilities in legal recruiting.

NALP, the National Association for Law Placement, has as its tagline “We Advance Legal Careers,” and consists of over 2500 law-career professionals. The organization produces a number of guides and directories, including one of legal employers and one of law schools, and also issues a number of reports on legal employment that are widely quoted.

Hoekstra has been a member ever since; she also served on the national nominating committee and was a presenter at its annual conference in 2013.

A number of factors led to Hoekstra relocating to Chicago, including the fact that her mother had come from the Chicago suburbs and Hoekstra herself had friends there she had made over the years. She obtained a job in recruiting for the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, commonly known as just Skadden. The huge national law firm had about 150 lawyers (of over 1700 total) in Chicago at that time, but unfortunately was prey to the national downturn in the late 2000s like most firms. Hoekstra was laid off in 2010.

She considered her options, and thought about recruiting in other fields. “I just didn’t feel the same draw, though; it wasn’t as appealing,” she says. She was only about six weeks into her unemployment when she was recruited into Chapman and Cutler, a somewhat smaller firm, where she was happy to find out that she would also be able to work on professional development. She was eventually named the firm’s director of recruiting.

During these positions, she served as an officer in the Chicago Association of Legal Personnel Administrators, ending with the presidency in 2015.

While in Chicago, she had met her husband Andrew, who is from Grand Rapids, and they started a several-year planning process to move to this area. This became even more urgent as their daughter Grace, now two years old, came along, and they recognized the merits of raising a child in West Michigan, with her husband’s many relatives nearby.

But Hoekstra was adamant that she was not going to take just any job.

“I wanted the perfect job at the perfect place. The first time we went to Grand Rapids years ago I saw the beautiful Varnum building, and looked up what it was. So they were always on my radar screen,” she says. “I applied as soon as I saw an

That was for a different job in Human Resources, but during the interview process, Hoekstra was told there would soon be an opening more commensurate with her experience and skills, so she waited a few months more.

She has not regretted taking the position for an instant. “The thing I like best is the incredibly warm and inviting people. When I interviewed, they talked a lot about the Varnum family, and I have found that to be very true – much more so than most law firms where I’ve worked. I’m really glad to see that my first impressions have been true to life,” she says.

“I also think Varnum does a really nice job of being strategic, thinking through how it makes sense to expand – looking at the specific practice areas and the different staffing levels. It’s very directed and very intentional, and I really appreciate that,” she adds.

Hoekstra will initially concentrate on overseeing the summer associate program and the law school recruiting process, which she says happens earlier and earlier each year. She will also handle lateral associate hiring.

“It’s all about communicating internally, there’s always give and take. I’m here to make sure that all the people are talking to each other. Every day’s a little bit different. You’re always trying to put together a different puzzle, playing a different Tetris game,” she says with a laugh, referring to the video game popular in the 1980s and 1990s.

Hoekstra says that in the future her job is likely to include partner-level lateral hiring as well as professional development. “I know that a lot of people would want to work here,” she says. “I think that in terms of expansion, there’s a focus on maintaining this culture of people caring for each other that has been so important to that success of the firm.

“We’re in the talent business, so if I see a really great resume, I’m going to talk to people. But I also always want to make sure to keep a close eye on the numbers. We don’t want to get  to a head count place that’s not comfortable.”