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CHICAGO � Schopf & Weiss, a small litigation boutique that has grown at a rate of about one lawyer per year during the past 20 years, has picked up the pace this year, hiring seven lawyers, settling into a bigger office and launching a revamped Web site. The Chicago firm could afford an investment in its business after a big payoff last year from one client helped provide what founding partner Bill Schopf said was the firm’s best-ever annual financial performance. The firm also benefited from selling the downtown Chicago building that housed its previous offices. While many U.S. firms are pursuing explosive growth, eating up whole firms of several hundred lawyers and staking out international offices, others are slowly building specialized firms. The small-firm route is a bit of a gamble in a legal era that sometimes calls for handling massive amounts of documents, but firms like Schopf & Weiss are developing their own methods for meeting the needs of big-name clients such as Sears Holding Corp. and Exelon Corp. “We don’t need to grow that much for profitability because we keep overhead low,” said Schopf, who is the firm’s oldest partner at 59. “We’re not carrying unproductive lawyers and we’re not carrying a worldwide network of offices.” Schopf & Weiss hasn’t hired a single lateral partner since 1989, opting instead to groom associates and promote them. The firm intends to keep on its independent, organic-growth path, but wouldn’t rule out a merger with an English litigation firm of the same caliber, Schopf said. Since he founded the firm in 1987 with three other lawyers, including partner Steven Weiss, it has grown to 28 attorneys today. “There are clearly cases of a size that would be impossible and impracticable for us to handle, but that’s OK,” Weiss said. The firm doesn’t want to hire hoards of young lawyers to wade through documents, Weiss said. It wants a smaller number of select associates seeking courtroom and client experience, and it boosted its first-year salary this year to $160,000 to stay competitive with larger firms. When the firm wants to take a big case, it bulks up with contract lawyers, sometimes as many as 20 at a time, so it can keep control of document review, but eliminate the expense when there’s no need for it, Schopf said. The firm has plenty of boutique competition in the city, all pulling clients from around the country. Some of the other niche litigation firms in town include Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott; Grippo & Elden; and Tabet DiVito & Rothstein. “Firms a lot of times go to them because they want someone who’s had a lot of heavy, hands-on litigation experience and [because] they’re conflicted out,” said Chris Percival, a recruiter at Chicago Legal Search. Schopf & Weiss focuses on general business litigation, but also has developed an expertise in representing insurance policyholders against insurance companies and also in defending firms in legal malpractice cases. The big victory for Schopf & Weiss last year was the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision affirming a jury verdict that awarded its client, Goss International Corp., $32 million in damages after a Japanese company dumped printing-press products on the U.S. market. Goss v. Tokyo Kikai, No. 04-2604. To tout some of its successes, the firm this year revamped its Web site after rolling out a new logo last year. It also settled into a modern glass-and-steel styled office in downtown Chicago after a December 2006 move. The firm’s diversity is not as progressive, with just one woman and one racial minority among the 13 partners. Paula Litt, a partner who has been with the firm from its start, said she believes that women have left the firm for the usual industry reasons: to follow a spouse’s career path or move to an in-house position, with a smaller number going to other firms.

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