Reading between the lines

Opening Statement

John McNally

Managing editor

March 2020

Each month this job provides me with a little déjà vu moment. That feeling comes on the day I begin to compile, edit and format the news in our monthly Firm Life section.

See, my first job in journalism was at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in my home state of Wisconsin. My job title was part-time agate clerk.

You might ask, what is agate? Well, it’s an industry term basically for small print. My job duties were to compile all the box scores for MLB, NFL, NBA, Olympics, golf, prep sports, etc. We also ran the daily betting odds lines.

Another major daily item was our Transactions agate section. It was all the news we couldn’t shine a spotlight on. A Division III women’s basketball coach got fired? You could find the news in Transactions. The Arizona Cardinals signed a new, third-string linebacker? It ran in Transactions.

Firm Life is Chicago Lawyer’s Transactions section. I’m happy Firm Life is a part of each issue because when you live and breathe it, you start to recognize some patterns — which are proven true in this month’s annual Largest Law Firms survey.

Last September was the first issue I handled from start to finish. In that Firm Life section, Ice Miller announced the hiring of one counsel. Through this January’s issue (where we run December’s hires), Ice Miller was in Firm Life announcing another five attorneys joining the firm.

So when I started to run some numbers from our annual Largest Law Firms survey I can’t say I was shocked to see Ice Miller had the second largest percentage growth during 2019. The firm reported it added 12 attorneys this year (up to 55 total), which was a 27.9% increase from 2019’s reported total.

I asked John David Burke, Ice Miller’s managing partner for its Chicago office, how they achieved that growth. The plan is all about opportunities.

“We offered opportunities to attorneys who are at some of the big shots,” Burke said. “We offered them what some of the other regional law firms are doing, which is lower billing rates, less conflicts. But, we also identified lawyers who are at that stage of their career where they’re working at the big shots and are basically discouraged from going out and finding work. There is enough work there for them to handle without being discouraged to go out and seek work.”

“They can come to Ice Miller and they get an opportunity to work on their business development, to go out and bring in their own clients. (They can) work with the existing partners here at the firm and have a platform that encourages lawyers to go out and identify and collect work.”

Benesch’s boom

The firm that saw the highest percentage growth — 34% — in this year’s survey was Benesch. This also wasn’t a stunner considering I’d met co-managing partner David Pope back in August for an interview on the firm’s new office. The new digs were necessary to accommodate Benesch’s growth since opening in 2015 and seeing a major spurt in 2019.

Pope said the new office at 71 S. Wacker Drive has shown incoming attorneys a dedication to growing the firm in Chicago and developing a work environment that is collaborative. Be sure to check out the full stories of Benesch’s and Ice Miller’s growth as well as all the other Largest Law Firm survey data starting on Page 16.

“People are very impressed by the office and by the commitment to Chicago,” he said. “It really represents what our office and firm is all about as far as collegiality, shared space and working together as effectively as we can.”

I was also impressed with Pope’s thoughts on how to harness the firm’s growth so Benesch’s identity remains constant.

“We’ve found that when you’re adding so many people so quickly, you really need to focus on integrating the people as they come and not letting people slip through the cracks,” Pope said. “You have to make sure they’re integrated into the office and the firm as a whole. We continue to have people in here for a specific basis and needs.”

I look forward to seeing the 2020 growth trends through our Firm Life section and my continual quest to understand this diverse legal landscape that is booming in Chicago.