Then there was one

After merger. Fox Rothschild brings two offices under a sleek roof

 Photos by Rena Naltsas
December 2019
By Andrew Maloney
Chicago Lawyer correspondent

Fox Rothschild’s Chicago office managing partner, Jeffrey L. Widman, sits in the main conference room of his firm’s new headquarters at 321 N. Clark St. on a Friday morning.

“There are a lot of neat bells and whistles to the space,” he said.

Bells, whistles and views.

After merging with Shaw Fishman Glantz & Towbin LLC in 2018, the firm had two offices, one on the eighth floor of the Riverfront Plaza, the other across the street at 353 N. Clark St.

But as of this spring, the whole operation has settled on the 16th floor at Riverfront and the Chicago skyline is a feature presentation in the new, 26,000-square-foot space.

“The consistent comment we get from clients is about the view from all of our conference rooms,” Widman said. “What our architects did, what they were mindful of is, because we have the entire floor, optimizing this tremendous location and tremendous view we have.”

Glass house, no stones

Indeed, a mosaic of glass and steel outside the large, west-facing windows of the main conference room seeps into view upon entering Fox’s new digs. Another, midsize conference room on the south side of the floor hangs over the Chicago River.

And the urban feel is replicated inside, too. An intricate panel on the wall in the reception area bolsters the angular features in the carpet and furniture throughout the office.

An exposed ceiling is not only in vogue, but it “brought the outside in, so the urban landscape,” said Tiffany Hughes, an associate interior designer at FCA, the Philadelphia-based architectural firm that handles all of Fox’s locations throughout the country.

“So, we’re bringing in an urban, industrial feel,” she said.

That exposed ceiling is featured throughout the Riverfront Plaza building, but it’s not just a design choice. It has functionality.

“In a traditional office building where you have 9-foot or 8-foot-6 high ceilings, it’s a very nice design feature to kind of modulate the office,” said Anthony Colciaghi, a principal at FCA.

“It gives you that sense of height, some visual interest in the ceiling. And done properly, it actually kind of diffuses the noise within the office.”

Efficiency was also top-of-mind in the new space. Fox’s Chicago office is the first for the firm to have universal office sizes. Each one is 505 square feet, and Widman said having laptop docking stations and sit/stand desks in each office aids in the cause.

“And while some of us that came from larger office sizes had a little bit of trepidation toward moving toward the universal size, I have to tell you that we all really, really like the office space, and the size of the office is great,” he said. “So, it’s forced us to be more, I guess, paperless, which is also an emphasis for the firm, is to go paperless when you can.”

Meet in the middle

There was also a push to create more “collision points” in the office. A sleek cafe, which Widman said is a popular place to congregate, was purposely placed at the opposite end of the elevator banks so people had to transition into the office through a gathering space. There also are collaboration rooms sprinkled throughout the floor, Widman noted. They’re not quite conference rooms, and not quite individual offices, but “great areas to just sit and talk to other attorneys rather than doing it in your offices,” Widman said.

Privacy is still available, though. The individual offices were designed with that thought in mind. Conference rooms have shades that cover the glass windows for sensitive meetings. Keycard entry is required for different parts of the office.

“Lawyers need some privacy — to have their space — to get their work done. It requires — whether you’re researching or writing or talking to clients — you need privacy,” Widman said.

Overall, finding that balance between incentivizing interaction — using glass everywhere and connecting the exterior and interior — while also still giving people their space to get work done, was integral to Fox’s plans for its lawyers.

“Do they still do the majority of their work head-down and quiet? Yes. So, I don’t think the office is going away in the next couple of years,” Colciaghi said. “But the trend is to be taking a very hard look at that and right-sizing the individual space.”

Fox is also pushing to keep its employees fit and well in the new office. A “wellness room” with a reclining chair on the interior of the floor, and a “walk mill” with treadmill desk, are a couple of the features.

“It’s a very comfortable place to come to work every day,” Widman concluded. “And you know, I look forward to spending my day in this space because of my surroundings.”