Breaking through

Much Shelist embraces ideas from outside the legal community in renovation

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 Photos by Rena Naltsas
January 2020
By John McNally
Managing editor

There has been one constant in the Much Shelist’s office aesthetic throughout the last 20 years – Steven Schwartz.

Schwartz, the firm’s COO and CFO, oversaw a major redesign of the office back in 2002 where he was essentially a constituency of one throughout the process. Seventeen years later, Schwartz got a lot more assistance and was able to foster a group that included principals Courtney Mayster and Steven DeGraff, among others to put the finishing touches on the 191 N. Upper Wacker Drive office’s freshest look.

“The design committee was responsible for working with the architect to come up with the basic plans,” Schwartz said. “There was a furniture committee, a hospitality committee, an A/V committee … ”

Much Shelist expressed excitement over bringing so many people into the design fold because the renovation was made for their future. Currently, there are around 100 lawyers and 170 overall employees at the 50,000-square-foot Chicago office.

The firm also has a small office of six people in Irvine, Calif. Despite going from three floors to two, and losing 25,000 square feet, the firm was able to increase the number of offices and conference rooms.

The new office features sleeker tapestry with high-end furniture and darker, heavier woods in the reception area and with the conference room doors. The office also got rid of the traditional corner offices and made each of those spots a collaboration space.

The firm now has uniform office sizes – 10 feet by 14 feet – for partners and associates, all of which utilize glass walls to capture and utilize the natural light. “An equity partner used to have three windows, now everyone is down to two windows,” DeGraff said.

Mayster added: “People adjusted very well. They adapted really well.”

The offices also feature much better soundproofing for privacy, dry-erase whiteboards for work and sit-or-stand desks. But, central to the Much Shelist office redesign was the creation of “The Hub.” This space was Mayster’s pet project. It’s creation evolved with Mayster and her team touring other law firm spaces, and offices outside the legal world, to gather ideas to bring to Much Shelist.

“(Doing that) gave us a sense of doing a hybrid (office) between some of the newer law firms we saw and the other types of offices like advertising and tech companies,” Mayster said.

The Hub, a wide-open collaboration space, can double as a central artery for an office party or Continuing Legal Education locale. It also has a cold-brew coffee tap, a beer spigot for after-hours, flavored sparkling water on tap and free snacks.

The Hub has utilized cement and Chicago Common Brick for the aesthetic, showcasing another texture in the office for employees to work around. “We wanted to pay homage to Chicago,” DeGraff said.

But, the Hub also has subtle touches like televisions linked to cameras that will follow a speaker so he or she is visible at all times during a packed office event. Mayster said that the space played into Much Shelist’s continued company mantra of being a leader and a pioneer.

“The Hub was one of the tenets of our strategic plan as far as being innovative,” Mayster said. “Being more tech- and future-forward and not being pigeon-holed in that traditional law firm space.”

‘Making an investment’

Much Shelist had to do its due diligence and see what options were available outside of 191 N. Upper Wacker, but Schwartz noted the firm always wanted to stay in the building because of the amenities available to them such as a gym in the building, the addition of a yoga room located in the office), its downtown location and the office’s steady, continued growth.

“This will be a huge game-changer for recruiting,” DeGraff said. “You spend more time at the office than you do at home for the most part. So to make it really comfortable and progressive and give everyone an opportunity to do what they do for work is important.”

“This shows we made an investment in the firm and that we’re forward-thinking,” Mayster said. “We weren’t planning for today, it’s about the longevity and the future (of the firm). It was always thinking about two, five, 10 years in the future and how to stay relevant and keep things fresh.”

The October office grand opening was the start of Much Shelist’s yearlong, 50th anniversary celebration. The firm intends to host its weekly Wednesday catered lunch for employees, a bevy of CLE courses and has made the space available for clients and employees to host their own charitable events onsite.

“We realize we’re still a law firm, but we want to practice differently in the future,” DeGraff said.