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Large Firms Deal With Changes In The Number of Illinois Lawyers


June 1, 2007

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4 minutes


By Olivia Clarke

When Chicago Lawyer’s first large-firm survey was released in 2001, the largest number of Illinois lawyers at one firm was 489. But today that number has grown. In this year’s survey, Kirkland & Ellis reported having 591 Illinois lawyers — the largest number of any local law firm.

Most large firms continue growing as they compete for a spot in the local market, but some firms reported the number of Illinois lawyers in their firms decreased from 2006 to 2007. Regardless of the ebb and flow, the firms’ management describe a need to focus their growth and concentrate on certain practice areas.

Chicago Lawyer releases this month the first results of its seventh annual survey of the largest law firms. Of the 160 firms that received the survey, 116 responded and reported their statistics through Jan. 1, 2007.

Baker & McKenzie, which has 70 offices worldwide, grew from 179 Illinois lawyers in 2006 to 203 Illinois lawyers in 2007 — a 13 percent increase.

The growth is due in large part to the firm’s focus on its transactional practices, said Philip Suse, managing partner of the firm’s Chicago office. Growth also occurred in other practices that marry well with the transactional areas, he said.

“We’ve done a lot of things on the people side to not only make this a more attractive place to work, but we made this a place where people want to stay,” he said.

The firm also changed its partner compensation system a few years ago to a more subjective compensation system, which allows the firm to take into account broader contributions, better attract lateral hires, and focus on growth, he said.

“We expect to grow at a similar rate in the next year, and to continue to grow at that rate,” he said. “It’s been very focused growth and not haphazard, and we think that is the kind of growth that is more sustainable in the long run.”

Eimer Stahl Klevorn & Solberg, which has one office, saw a 137 percent increase from 27 Illinois lawyers in 2006 to 64 Illinois lawyers in 2007.

The firm has done more hiring and is using more contract lawyers because it is handling more complex work, said Nathan Eimer, a founding partner.

“Hopefully, we will keep winning our trials,” he said. “I think we will try to continue to grow as we have, and I think continue to add only the best people we can find. And we will not grow for the sake of growing. I don’t think we necessarily want to get any bigger than we are.”

Levenfeld Pearlstein, which has a primary office in Chicago and a smaller office in Northbrook, grew by 21 percent from 62 Illinois lawyers in 2006 to 75 Illinois lawyers in 2007.

Chairman Bryan I. Schwartz said significant planned growth has occurred from 2005 to 2007 because the firm’s strategy has been to continue building its corporate and securities, real estate, and litigation practice areas, he said. But the firm plans to slow its growth so it can better integrate new lawyers into the firm and maintain the firm’s culture, Schwartz said.

“We are continually shaping our strategy so that it is more focused rather than less,” he said. “For a smaller firm, it is life or death. If you are not focused, you are dead. If you are just a generalist, you are only competing on rate. You are not competing on expertise in a few areas where you can have a strong market position.”

Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, which has 14 offices worldwide, reported a 14 percent decrease from 228 Illinois lawyers in 2006 to 197 Illinois lawyers in 2007.

Chairman Elliott Portnoy said 2006 was an investment year for the firm because it examined its practices very closely and saw significant expansion opportunities in certain markets and practices, and consolidation in other areas.

The firm also wanted to better position itself to compete and win the battle for attracting and retaining top talent and clients, he said.

“We concluded that from that position of strength we needed to re-examine virtually every aspect of how we do business, how we relate to clients and provide high-quality service to those clients,” he said. “It was a good year for us financially, but we came out of it with a very strong desire to grow our talent and client base in Chicago and around the firm.”

Holland & Knight, which has 23 offices worldwide, reported a 13 percent decrease from 160 Illinois lawyers in 2006 to 140 Illinois lawyers in 2007.

Elias N. Matsakis, executive partner in the firm’s Chicago office, attributes the decrease in the Chicago office to no longer using 15 contract lawyers, who worked with a major client in 2004 and 2005, and to 10 of counsel lawyers who retired or adopted an inactive status.

He said the Chicago office plans to continue building on its transactional, real estate, corporate, health law and intellectual property practices.

“Our core group of lawyers did not really shrink, but was relatively stable and better positioned,” Matsakis said. “My goal would be to expand the [Chicago] office with attorneys with strong middle-market practices that complement either our local office groups or connect quite well with the firm-wide groups.”

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