By Daniel N. Janich
Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale
When a firm contemplates office expansion, strategic planning for growth is always key — but the devil is in the details.
As part of the process, one crucial detail that is often either overlooked or insufficiently addressed is how to balance the needs of the new office with those of the main office. Continuing the series that began last month, this month's column focuses on how Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale struck such a balance when it expanded into Chicago and the lessons both offices learned and continue to learn during this journey.
After experiencing sustained growth in its litigation practice in St. Louis for the past 10 years, and having successfully launched an additional office in Belleville, Ill., in 1995, the firm decided that the time was right for continued expansion and that it was ready to face the challenges posed by such an ambitious undertaking.
With a key client seeking additional legal services in the Chicago area, opening an office in this desirable, yet highly competitive, city provided the firm not only the opportunity to serve its existing clients more effectively, but to offer a platform for growth.
The firm contemplated a phased approach, allowing for controlled growth over time, while managing risk as much as possible. The key objectives of the firm's initial strategic plan were:
• Expand its representation of clients in the greater Chicago metropolitan area;
• Build upon the firm's existing strong practice areas with a Chicago platform that provided new or enhanced opportunities in the legal market; and
• Bring on highly qualified laterals, either as individual hires or in larger teams (as the firm had previously done in Belleville) and provide them with needed support from St. Louis until a full-service operation was developed in Chicago.
Since opening its Chicago office, Greensfelder has concentrated its efforts on attracting lateral candidates having the right mix of rainmaking skills and the professional talent and experience to complement the firm's existing practice areas in St. Louis, while expanding the firm's corporate client base.
During the expansion process, the firm realized building a successful multi-office operation consistent with achieving the initial objectives outlined above required three essential elements:
• Financial commitment and operational support from the main office;
• Establishment of clear lines of communication between various offices; and
• Making sure attorneys working outside of the main office feel they are significant and valued members of the firm.
The implementation of these elements required answering many questions. The "how" proved to be rather challenging. The firm's initial push to attract strong lateral candidates with a significant local client base has been successful.
Continued expansion after the initial push appears to be somewhat more difficult, particularly during the weak economy. One difficulty encountered by the firm in connection with this aspect of the expansion consists in creating a firmwide environment conducive to cross-marketing among offices. The development of such an environment primarily requires time to change most attorneys' modus operandiand perspectives from focusing almost exclusively on serving local clients to ones that are more regional and national.
To combat the tendency to think locally, Greensfelder has embarked on a sustained internal program of promoting awareness of each lateral's capabilities among its attorneys. Attorneys are encouraged to split time between offices when there are business reasons to do so (and there are many) for them to get to know each other personally.
The firm is also planning to produce videos of Chicago attorneys that will be showcased at an upcoming retreat and then posted on the firm's website to share their capabilities with a wider audience.
Although the Chicago office has overcome some hurdles along the way, the firm's current activities, as well as the Chicago team's own efforts to promote its capabilities firmwide, continue to propel the office forward and bode well for future growth.
The Chicago office has hit each of its projected benchmarks over the last three years and, as a result, it recently relocated to a new and more spacious office space a few floors from where it all began, in the same office building.
Greensfelder's expansion in the Chicago market continues to be a journey, sometimes challenging, but most often quite rewarding. The firm continues to experience steady forward momentum as its service offerings grow.
Next month we will address how supporting strong internal communications, creating a robust attorney integration program and promoting the firm externally have been critical to the firm's ability to attract both lateral recruits and get the attention of the Chicago business community.