Spaces: A blank slate

Spaces: A blank slate
August 2016
By Dustin J. Seibert
Chicago Lawyer correspondent

Note: A correction was made to the second paragraph of this story to clarify the firm's Chicago office suite was custom-built for the very first time.

Whatever the law office version of the “new car smell” is, the Chicago office of Greensfelder Hemker & Gale has it.

After operating for years in Chicago, the St. Louis-based, full-service firm finally opened a custom office on May 31 on the 33rd floor of 200 W. Madison St. As of mid-June, the office smells brand-spanking-new, everything is immaculately clean and most associate offices have yet to succumb to the conventional piles of accumulated documents.

Managing officer and Chicago native David Goodman joined Greensfelder in 2013 with the task of hiring local attorneys, given his familiarity with the market. He says that maintaining a Midwest presence was more important for Greensfelder than opening offices in coastal markets.

“There’s a great amount of legal talent here in Chicago,” he says. “That, combined with how easy it is to integrate them into our firm and control costs and efficiencies, Chicago was just the best option for a new office.”

Despite starting in 1895 as what Goodman calls a “small, sleepy” St. Louis firm, Greensfelder’s transactional and construction business grew rapidly in the 1970s as it was hired to handle many of the city’s big projects of that decade. The firm currently handles a significant amount of dispute resolution and transactional work.

More than 70 percent of the firm’s attorneys have litigated a case to verdict or arbitrated a case to decision within the last year. Goodman says Greensfelder separates itself in a zeitgeist in which many firms seek to settle cases.

“We have a lot of attorneys with solid trial experience — we recruit from the U.S. attorney’s office and from firms that have strong litigators,” he says. “When you get to the point in a dispute where it’s clear you need to go to court, something has to give and that’s where we come in.”

Gorgeous yet functional

Greensfelder’s 21 employees thrive on a highly collaborative culture, Goodman says. This was a strong consideration when the new office was designed, he explains.

Low-sitting cubicles occupy the office’s interior and frosted glass separates conference rooms and exterior offices. At just about any place you stand in the 22,897-square-foot space, you can get an ample blast of sunshine and more than an eyeful of downtown Chicago.

“The views of the city are gorgeous, but they also serve a function in how we approached the design,” Goodman says. “We made it so everyone here has to cross paths with each other and interact.”

Among the five conference rooms and 33 individual offices — some of which are still empty and will eventually support firm growth — breakout spaces are plentiful; file cabinets double as surface tops around which employees can congregate, and the library is more of a lounge area surrounded by low-level bookshelves.

“Since our approach is very collaborative, all conference rooms have smartboards and whiteboards, and the office is designed for people to informally bounce ideas off each other,” Goodman says. “On the other hand, the offices are quiet — if you’re working, it’s not annoying to hear others.”

Keeping the collaborative culture alive at Greensfelder starts with being particular about whom they hire to practice there; Goodman says they prefer to get referrals from staff and friends of the firm.

“The biggest thing is that we have to like each other and work well with each other,” he says. “There can be a lot of territoriality when it comes to lawyers, but we don’t tolerate that. If we can’t work as an overall team, then we can’t function.”