Making their mark

McDonald Hopkins’ recent move wasn’t about space, but independence

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Photos by Rena Naltsas
October 2017
By Dustin J. Seibert
Chicago Lawyer correspondent

McDonald Hopkins’ recent move from one floor at 300 N. LaSalle Drive to another wasn’t about adding more square feet — in fact, it accomplished quite the opposite with a drop in square footage. It was about establishing independence.

For more than seven years, the full-service firm existed on the 21st floor of 300 N. LaSalle — a space the firm subleased from Kirkland & Ellis — before moving to the 14th floor at the end of February.

Existing in Kirkland’s space limited the firm’s ability to tailor that space to its wants and needs, said managing partner Richard Kessler, who merged a firm he started with fellow partner and Chicago-Kent College of Law School buddy Steven Harris.

The firm became Harris, Kessler & Goldstein and was located at 640 N. LaSalle. The firm joined McDonald Hopkins in February 2007 and the move to 300 N. LaSalle occurred in January 2010.

“From a collaboration perspective, which is really what we’re about, the space just wasn’t what we really wanted,” Kessler said of the 21st floor. “We had 44 offices and 22 lawyers across 24,000 square feet, so it was very spread out and really didn’t engender a lot of collaboration as we like. This [14th] floor was gutted and we are now direct [tied as a true tenant] with the building, which allowed us to design the space that we wanted.”

When building out the space with GREC Architects and contractor DSI, Kessler said that making the space practical yet elegant was of paramount importance.

“Our client base is middle market. They want value and we want to deliver value,” he said. “We didn’t want space that had a lot of show with no practicality or function to it. We wanted it to feel like a very comfortable place to work. Natural elements — wood, stone, glass walls … things that look refreshing to walk by.”

The design succeeds in having elements that are functional without looking ostentatious or expensive. Visitors enter the firm’s main reception area and find marble floors with stainless steel dividers serving the role of grout and a reception desk made of stone.

Tracks in the certain parts of the ceiling are recessed to hide the means to operate privacy curtains. Carpeting in the hall is designed to muffle footsteps so as not to disturb people in nearby offices. File cabinets controlled by foot pedals blend into the exterior walls.

“When lawyers from other markets visit us, they notice how well things work,” Kessler said. “Things are very functional, and there’s not a lot of wasted space.”

Having attorneys from the five other McDonald Hopkins offices feeling comfortable in the new space is important, as members of the Chicago office often draw upon them for collaboration, Kessler said.

“Each of our offices is not a separate P&L [profit and loss center], which might be unusual for different firms but we look at the firm as a whole,” he said. “We don’t feel that we need to keep a case internal to help our bottom line, we will look to see who can best assist with each matter.”

Kessler said Chicago staffers played a significant role in determining how the space should look.

“Staff is important in terms of work flow and being comfortable as each of the attorneys, so we asked them what would work well for them in terms of file location, accessibility and other things” he said.

Establishing uniform offices was part of that inclusive approach to the office.

“It fits with our culture, because no one is more important than anyone else,” Kessler said. “Collegiality doesn’t always equate to collaboration, but we need both. As we are a midmarket servicer, there are many needs our clients have, and through collaboration or communication our lawyers are better able to spot issues when meeting with a new or existing client.”

Kessler finds it especially important that the firm’s many younger attorneys feel comfortable within the space and able to collaborate with one another.

“Steve is 61 and I’m 60,” Kessler said. “We like the ability to walk through and see the [younger attorneys], talk to them and have conversations about what they’re doing as opposed to having them be in their office with a closed door.”

With a little more than 16,000 square feet, the new space has only about two-thirds of the square feet from the 21st floor. Despite the decrease in space, the firm still has a mind toward growth — but selective growth, Kessler said.

“We’re not just looking for bodies,” he said. “We could have filled up with bodies years ago, but we’re looking for the right people that want to join the firm. They need an entrepreneurial spirit and must understand what midmarket clients go through and what it takes for them to keep the lights on.”