After a year and a half, Jenner’s ex-president says Willkie’s Chicago ambitions are paying off


The offices of Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York. REUTERS / Andrew Kelly

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(Reuters) – New York’s Willkie Farr & Gallagher burst into Chicago last March, adding six prominent Jenner & Block partners, including Craig Martin, then president of the Chicago-based company.

More than 16 months later, Willkie’s Chicago office has more than 45 lawyers, a number Martin said he expects growth.

“We haven’t lost anyone,” said Martin, president of the company in the Midwest. “And I don’t think we made an offer to an associate who didn’t come.”

Martin spoke with Reuters this week about Willkie’s strategy for success in Chicago’s increasingly crowded legal market, the challenge of getting started during a pandemic, and how the company is coping with a resurgence of cases of virus.

While many of his Big Law counterparts question whether to postpone plans to return to the office in the coming weeks, Martin said Willkie has already decided not to ask any of his employees to return to the office until. ‘see you next year.

The conversation below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

REUTERS: Willkie Farr arrived in Chicago in late March at the start of the pandemic. It seems like a tricky or inopportune time to get started in a new city.

CRAIG MARTIN: It’s true that we opened on March 31, 2020. And it’s just as true that by then COVID had essentially closed many states and cities, including Chicago. With perfect 20/20 hindsight, we actually found it to be a blessing, and here’s what I mean by that: Our practice during the COVID period was as robust and intense as it always has been. . And if anything, the COVID period has made it more intense when it comes to crisis management for customers, immediately dealing with the myriad of business, employment and other issues that arose during the COVID crisis. So our practice didn’t miss a beat. In fact, it has increased quite substantially as our clients have started deploying us on more corporate and transactional assignments, asset management assignments and things that Willkie is well known for in private equity and private equity. Mergers and Acquisitions. A good time for us, even if you wouldn’t have expected it to be a good time.

Craig Martin. Photo courtesy of Willkie, Farr & Gallagher

REUTERS: How would you describe the state of the Chicago legal market?

MARTIN: From our perspective, there is a leak from customers. There is a talent drain and a quality flight that takes place in the Chicago legal market and in domestic and international legal markets. We therefore see that the demand for our litigation and litigation practice is increasing. The demand for our private wealth management practice that we see is increasing because there is a quality flight going on.

REUTERS: Several other companies have all flocked to Chicago in the past year. Coupled with the companies already present, are you worried that the Chicago market will become saturated?

MARTIN: I don’t think the market in the area we’re competing in is saturated at all. The types of business we do and the types of clients we work for are the country’s largest businesses and wealthy families, and we represent them in their most important economic and reputational affairs. When it comes to this practice, we are very competitive.

The legal market is very diverse. Companies play in all kinds of different spaces in the legal market. It’s no surprise to me that other companies are opening offices here. For our part, we attract the best talent from the legal community as people learn more about the Willkie Chicago team. So that’s what I see happening. I think there is a lot of room for top legal talent and firms that attract legal talent like this to the Chicago market.

REUTERS: Where is the company in terms of masking and vaccinations?

MARTIN: We haven’t announced anything about it. The only announcement we have made is that no one will be forced to return to the office until 2022. These are not issues that we have faced. I have read all the press you have read, so follow it with great interest. We are very tuned in to science, the CDC and so on. But we haven’t, other than saying no one will be forced to come back until 2022, we haven’t done anything yet.

Read more:

White-shoe law firms are shy about the reopening of offices

AT A GLANCE: Willkie opens Chicago office with ex-president of Jenner & Block

David thomas

David Thomas reports on legal affairs including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @ DaveThomas5150.

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