Shifting dynamics

 Photos by Rena Naltsas
November 2019
By John McNally
Managing editor

Williams Montgomery & John founding partner C. Barry Montgomery has seen it all. Montgomery was there when the firm opened shop at 20 N. Wacker Drive.

Montgomery also has been a part of many moves the firm has made throughout its history – including leaving 20 N. Wacker in 2009 for Willis Tower. Today, the high-stakes litigation firm resides in Suite 6800 in Willis Tower.

In May 2018, Williams Montgomery & John — with 22 attorneys and approximately 35 employees — moved up seven floors in Willis Tower to the 68th floor. Montgomery appreciated Willis Tower’s proposition to keep the firm in the building’s fold.

“We basically moved over a weekend,” Montgomery joked.

The move did significantly cut into the firm’s overall square footage. On the 61st floor, the firm had 33,885 square feet compared to 15,363 square feet on the 68th floor. But that was always the plan, according to Montgomery.

The changing space needs reflect the shift in practice the firm underwent too. At its peak, the firm had 100 lawyers and 30 to 40 administrative support staff.

“We were an insurance defense firm for basically 25 or 30 years,” Montgomery said. “We got out of that business, which is a high-volume business. We downsized and became a business litigation firm, a boutique firm. We strictly do trial work and litigation.”

Easy layout

The new Williams Montgomery & John floor plan was module so the “offices make themselves,” according to Montgomery. Still, the team was able to design the office into their personal aesthetic.

“It was pretty much raw space so we could design it the way we wanted,” Montgomery said. “We could be much more efficient. We eliminated much of the secretarial space and some of the storage areas.”

The office showcases a healthy collection of art, including paintings, prints and sculptures. Montgomery said he was the genesis for the start of the art collection, but it evolved and increased over the years with the help of an art curator.

“It was a hobby of mine,” he noted. “There’s some valuable art in here now.”

As scenic as ever

The views of Chicago on the 68th floor remain ideal for the firm’s employees. Since the shift in focus to business litigation, attracting the elite young talent out of law schools has been a premium for Montgomery and the firm.

Having an office that reflects the firm’s dedication to the finer points of antitrust, commercial litigation, construction litigation, intellectual property and securities and commodities litigation.

“We’ve been successful in that regard,” Montgomery said of recruiting. “You hire a totally different brand of lawyer when you’re doing business litigation versus insurance defense litigation. We hire from the top 5% of the top 25 law schools. We pay them a lot more money. This is more detail-oriented and complex. You need a higher quality of talent.

“It’s a nice place to come to. It’s quiet and there are fabulous views. The space is comfortable and we’re very happy here.”