For most of the country’s leading law firms, Chicago has never been the Second City. The highest-grossing firms on the coasts have expanded into each other’s cities, but few have settled in Chicago.
It’s as if the city’s landmark steel-and-stone skyscrapers contain law firms that are as unshakable as the buildings themselves: Kirkland & Ellis; Winston & Strawn; Sidley Austin Brown & Wood.
“Historically, the perception was that this was a closed community that was very well served by very good firms,” says Neal Wolf, a partner at Winston & Strawn during the ’90s.
Wolf is back in the city after six years in San Francisco, where he moved to LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae. In February he opened a Chicago office for LeBoeuf. “I have Lake Michigan behind me right now,” says Wolf from his desk. “I’m a Chicago-boy man. The city, it runs in my blood.”
As it happens, Wolf’s own business plan relies on the decline of such nativist sentiment. LeBoeuf and other newcomers are betting that Chicago firms no longer hold a lock on the city’s legal work. “The community is opening up,” Wolf says. “Clients are diversifying in the legal providers they hire. And there’s a huge amount of mobility within the legal community.”