With its high taxes, crime-plagued neighborhoods and long-term budget deficits, Illinois earned the unwanted distinction last year of being the state with the highest percentage of residents moving outside its borders.
That hasn’t stopped Barnes & Thornburg, based in neighboring Indiana, from investing in Chicago.
So far this year, the firm has hired six partners in the Windy City, with three of those additions coming within the past week. The moves help the firm top 100 lawyers in Chicago, where Barnes & Thornburg first planted its flag in 1994. The six lateral partner recruits are also the most by any firm in the city so far this year, according to data from ALM Intelligence.
But Barnes & Thornburg’s growth hasn’t been limited to Chicago. Coming off a strong financial performance in 2017, the firm has added more than 15 partners since the start of the year, according to ALM Intelligence. Notably, in April, the firm brought on frequent lateral mover and noted trial lawyer William “Billy” Martin for its office in Washington, D.C.
As for Chicagoland, the firm’s most recent hire was former Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart senior associate Gray Mateo-Harris, who came aboard this week as a partner in its labor and employment practice. Last week, Barnes & Thornburg brought on another labor and employment partner, Amy Zdravecky, who will also spend time in her new firm’s office in the fast-growing market of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zdravecky was most recently a partner at Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone.
Barnes & Thornburg’s Chicago office has also focused on bolstering its intellectual property expertise, as last week the firm added IP litigation partner G. Peter Nichols from Brinks Gilson Lione, a local IP boutique that earlier this year opened its first office outside the country in the Chinese technology hub of Shenzhen, China. Barnes & Thornburg has hired five other IP partners so far in 2018, including Chicago-based Joseph Paquin Jr., who came aboard in March from McDermott Will & Emery, and former Perkins Coie partners Dennis Peterson and Bruce Zivian.
Mark Rust, Chicago office managing partner and vice chair of Barnes & Thornburg’s management committee, said the firm was not necessarily looking to grow on the back of a strong 2017, but that it has benefited from partners at larger firms looking elsewhere due to rate pressure. He said he expects the office will add more partners by the end of the month.
“The market goes through changes where there will be firms who find a partner with a $2 million book of business is no longer terribly useful for them,” Rust said Tuesday. “That partner doesn’t want a rate with four digits in it, and it’s time to look for another platform. And that serves us extremely well.”
Chicago itself has been a hub for law firm merger activity in recent years, leading to some turmoil in local partnership ranks. Barnes & Thornburg is now renovating its office space in the city to add a half-floor to its lease to make room for expansion, Rust said. The firm now occupies three-and-a-half floors at the UBS Tower on Wacker Drive.
Barnes & Thornburg’s other lateral hires this year include seven laterals in Minneapolis. Those hires are comprised of a four-lawyer family law team from Minneapolis’ Lindquist & Vennum; intellectual property litigator Bruce Little; and two restructuring partners from Fox Rothschild. Barnes & Thornburg also set up shop earlier this year in San Diego, where the firm welcomed aboard three new lawyers last month.
The hiring spree comes on the heels of a strong 2017 at Barnes & Thornburg. The firm, which has grown its gross revenue for 19 straight years, saw that metric jump nearly 7 percent last year, to $395.5 million. Profits per equity partner also rose 6.8 percent, to $905,000, while revenue per lawyer grew 7.5 percent, to $747,000.
At the same time, head count stayed virtually flat at 529 lawyers. Last year, Barnes & Thornburg hired 17 partners all year, a number it will easily pass in 2018, said Robert Grand, the firm’s managing partner. Grand noted that lateral hiring is something his firm has invested in, as he spends a significant portion of time with recruitment. He said that Barnes & Thornburg has a full-time staff member focused on lateral integration.
“That’s a high priority for us,” Grand said. “You’ve got to have people in there helping [new lateral hires] open files, people helping them schedule trips to other markets [and] publicity going out on them. That’s blocking and tackling, and I think we do it pretty well.”
As for the financial outlook of Illinois itself, Tuesday marked the three-year anniversary of a state Supreme Court ruling that nixed a law aimed at reducing the state’s crippling pension debt, which Bloomberg LP reported had grown to $137 billion by June 2017. That debt amounts to about $11,000 for every resident of the state, Bloomberg noted.