Blank Rome became the latest major out-of-town firm to make an entrance in the Chicago market on Tuesday, bringing on a four-partner group from Katten Muchin Rosenman.
Leading the group, and the new Chicago location, is Kenneth Ottaviano, who had been a member of Katten’s board of directors. Joining Blank Rome with him are Karin Berg, William Dorsey and Paige Barr Tinkham.
Ottaviano, Berg and Tinkham are joining Blank Rome’s finance, restructuring and bankruptcy group as partners, and Dorsey will be a partner in the corporate litigation group. All four will be part of the financial services industry group, Blank Rome said.
The group has been in talks with Blank Rome for about three months, said Ottaviano, adding that he met Blank Rome CEO Grant Palmer while in Washington, D.C., for March Madness. At the time, Ottaviano was already far along in lateral discussions with another law firm that was also looking to open a new Chicago location. But Blank Rome ended up being a better fit, he said.
“An opportunity to build an office from the ground up, to create a presence in Chicago for a national firm that is as well respected in the finance space as Blank Rome is an opportunity you can’t pass up,” he said.
Ottaviano noted that Blank Rome represents creditors, which was important to his group, and he was impressed with its “strong culture of collaboration.”
Blank Rome “was just very energized about opening up in Chicago,” he added. “That gave us the warm fuzzies about carrying on a conversation.”
Ottaviano said he has worked with each of the other four partners in his group for over a decade, and works with them closely. He said they are not actively pursuing other lawyers from Katten, but “our phones are always open.”
The four partners’ practice is national and its clients include large banks, medium-sized banks and commercial finance companies, Ottaviano said. Palmer said the firm is currently focused on integrating the new group, but will look to grow in Chicago over time.
“We do want to be a full-service office in Chicago. That’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re definitely going to be recruiting and looking for other offices,” Palmer said in an interview Tuesday.
Philadelphia-based Blank Rome has a number of existing clients based in Chicago or doing business in the city, Lawrence Flick, chairman of the firm’s financial services industry group, said in a statement. “In addition, the team’s significant experience in financing and restructuring in the healthcare industry will further expand our strong healthcare finance capabilities,” he added.
Palmer said Blank Rome has close to 150 existing clients operating in the Midwest, though he declined to identify them.
“This is really the reason we wanted to be in Chicago,” he said. Blank Rome’s leadership has had an eye on that market for some time. Palmer said in a January interview that the firm was planning to add as many as 400 lawyers across its footprint, as well as a Midwest office likely in Chicago.
In Tuesday’s interview, he noted that the firm did a number of internal surveys on the issue, and all signs pointed toward needing an office in Chicago.
The new office will be located temporarily at 10 South Riverside Plaza, but the firm is seeking a permanent Chicago location.
A representative from Katten had no immediate comment on the departures.
Chicago has been a hot market for Big Law lateral hiring of late, as newer entrants build up their presence in the city, sometimes taking from native firms.
Eversheds Sutherland opened its Chicago outpost, its first new location since the 2017 merger between U.K. firm Eversheds and Atlanta-based Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, at the end of May, bringing on recruits from White & Case and Kirkland & Ellis.
Last week, White & Case’s 1-year-old Chicago office took a partner from Kirkland & Ellis and another from Winston & Strawn, in its financial restructuring and insolvency practice and its banking practice. King & Spalding added a Chicago partner from Latham & Watkins to its corporate, finance and investments group last week as well.
Noting the growth of other large firms in Chicago, Ottaviano said Blank Rome’s client base makes it well-situated in the Midwest. He said too many firms are trying to bill New York rates in Chicago.
“Blank Rome understands and appreciates that they are upper-middle-market to middle-market. They understand who they are,” he said. “They’re very nimble.”