Two law firms doing the office right

Currently a handful of law firms, which greatly impact the downtown Chicago office market fundamentals, are delaying decisions about their real estate, waiting to see how hybrid work plays out in the industry. But some firms see opportunity: there’s a growing number of law firms out there taking the risk, committing to space and bringing a fearless approach to their workplace decisions. And they are reaping the benefits of their moves.

I recently sat down with Patrick Croke, Partner and Co-Founder of Croke Fairchild Duarte & Beres; and Jay Rock, Principal and Founding Member of Rock Fusco & Connelly, LLC. We talked about how the bold COVID-era decisions they made in their respective law firm real estate strategies were paying off. Both firms have turned the old law firm approach to real estate on its head, eschewing outdated traditions and embracing new ideas.

Peter Billmeyer: Patrick, your firm had been subleasing space at 180 N. LaSalle when you decided to explore a long-term space commitment. What was the hardest part of that decision?

Patrick CrokeDeciding whether or not to have an office was actually easy—in fact, it was a non-decision. Law firms need offices. The hardest part was deciding on how much space. Thanks to our sublease, we did not have to contend with inflexible legacy decisions or an over-investment in our real estate. Also, our past experience seeking to fully understand what we need and don’t need from our workplace really freed us up to make new people-focused decisions.

Patrick Croke, Partner and Co-Founder, Croke Fairchild Duarte & Beres, left and Jay Rock, Principal and Founding Member, Rock Fusco & Connelly, LLC

Peter Billmeyer: In your space, with your explosive growth, if everyone in your firm came to work on any given day, a sizable percentage would, in your words, “have to sit on the floor.” How comfortable are you with that reality?

Patrick CrokeWe’re very comfortable with less space. For us, the most important part of the process was learning how to listen to our people and adapt to their center of gravity, rather than forcing them into an office setting that didn’t work for them. We know that at least half of our workforce won’t be in the office five days a week. So, a desk or office for every person would mean we weren’t really listening. Reducing our rentable square footage also means lower overhead, and we think our clients appreciate that we can pass that savings along to them. Our top priorities were flexibility and a location that is easy to get to whether you drive, bike, or take the Metra or the L.


Peter Billmeyer: What about the design of the space is working best for your firm, and how does it most noticeably differ from the traditional law office of the past?

Patrick Croke:That old guard layout, with offices around the perimeter and cubicles in the center, was exactly what we didn’t want. Our new space is filled with natural light and glass. We offer both private offices and hoteling options and empower our people to figure out what works best for them. The bullpen-style design has been amazing for collaboration. Our office attracts entrepreneurial, strategic lawyers who understand exactly what we are doing from a business perspective.

Peter Billmeyer: Jay, your situation is a little different; you were one of few companies that actually expanded during the height of COVID.

Jay Rock:We did. We ran out of space at 321 N Clark Street and opted to expand at 333 W Wacker where we leased just under 27,000 square feet. When COVID hit, we were in the middle of the process with you of analyzing the best space for our business drivers. We chose to commit and charged forward with no regrets.

Peter Billmeyer: Did you feel, like Patrick, that figuring out the right office size was a big challenge?

Jay Rock: We needed time for the process. The site selection, build-out and move management is complex and we wanted to get it right. We learned how to really tap into the expertise of folks like yourself—plus design and construction teams—to find the right building for us.

Peter Billmeyer: How has your recruitment been going now that you’re in the new space?

Jay Rock: Honestly, we know there is a significant portion of the workforce that is just not excited to come to the office. But we are excited because we invested in a place where we know people want to be. I’m a firm believer that you can’t do everything on Zoom because you lose those organic, collegial interactions that happen when you’re in the office.

Peter Billmeyer: Everyone knows the 333 Wacker building. It’s famous for that curved glass that hugs the bend in the Chicago River. I love that you seat all of your associates—rather than yourself— in offices with that beautiful view. How did you come to that unusual decision?

Jay Rock: We made a conscious decision to put our people first.  Our operating philosophy is showing our people that we care about them and sincerely appreciate their hard work, making our firm great. So, we put them in the front of the house with the river views, and we feel that makes a strong statement about our priorities.

Peter Billmeyer: Like Patrick’s firm, I know your people are really enjoying a more open layout and a whole new way of clustering people together. How has that enhanced your office experience?

Jay Rock: We view our real estate as a down payment on our culture and have invested accordingly. We’re organized by practice group rather than hierarchy, creating a strong sense of team. We also bring people together with our comfortable common areas. Our multipurpose space serves as a place to eat, have town hall meetings, host clients and enjoy social events.

The future looks bright

These two law firms have an inspired story to tell about the measured risks they’ve taken in real estate strategy. They are empowering their attorneys to help curate the office experience and make investments that make sense (think natural light and layout versus ping-pong). The end result is loyalty, productivity and profitability.