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CHICAGO � Baker & McKenzie and Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal have Chicago building leases that run past 2010, but that doesn’t mean they can afford to put off planning for their next possible move. Baker & McKenzie is getting close to a decision on whether to stay in the historic Prudential building overlooking Lake Michigan or move west to one of two planned developments that would be ready when the firm’s current lease expires in November 2012. The new buildings are the River Point, a 50-story curved glass tower that will go up at 444 W. Lake St., just west of the Chicago River, and a 40-story building south of that location at 222 W. Randolph St. “We should be in a position to make a decision in a couple weeks,” said Baker partner and real estate attorney Robert Deignan, who is leading the firm’s exploration. Competition for new associates and clients means that law firms want their space to have the latest cosmetic, infrastructure and technological upgrades. Even when they renew leases, the firms typically require renovations to their existing space. Sonnenschein plans to select a real estate broker this month to help explore options in Chicago before the expiration of its Sears Tower lease in 2014. “We’re at the beginning of the planning process,” said Sonnenschein partner Linda White, a real estate attorney for the firm in Chicago who is spearheading the effort with others. New digs Major firms in Chicago, including Mayer Brown and Sidley Austin, moved to new digs in the past five years, while Kirkland & Ellis and Jenner & Block have plans to move next year. As a result, law firms have less competition from each other in the city’s market at the moment. “In the last five years, law firms have been a driver of the developments and a driver of the absorption in the market, but we sense that that is definitely slowing down,” said Bill Rogers, a real estate broker with Jones Lang LaSalle in Chicago. Still, there’s plenty of competition for space from other professional service companies, White said. “There’s a limited number of blocks of A-quality space.” Sonnenschein, which was founded in Chicago and was one of the first tenants in the Sears Tower in 1973, will assess cost, location and amenities, among other factors, when it looks at sites, she said. In the past, the firm chose to refurbish its current space, which has grown to include 245,000 square feet on all or part of eight floors. “We certainly want a class-A building,” said White, who noted that, if the firm stays in the Sears Tower, it would refurbish the office. The elliptical-shaped River Point building that Baker & McKenzie is considering was designed by the architectural firm Pickard Chilton. It would have a one-acre landscaped riverfront plaza. The proposed Randolph St. building was designed by GREC Architects and is a slightly smaller, glass rectangle-style building. Baker & McKenzie’s current Prudential building at 130 E. Randolph St. was a landmark edifice when it was completed in 1955, with the fastest elevators in the world and the largest parking facilities within a building, according to Emporis.com, a building data Web site. The firm moved into the building in September 1968, refurbished it in the 1990s and now occupies 12 floors. The timing on completion of the buildings would be “perfect” for Baker’s possible move date in late 2012, Deignan said. The firm has bids from two of the three buildings at this point, and will soon finish surveying attorneys on their preferences before a final partner vote, Deignan said. “We want a solid majority,” to support the choice, he said. “We’ll know when we’re there.”

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