Room to grow

October 2016
By Dustin J. Seibert
Chicago Lawyer correspondent

On the main conference room wall of Akerman’s Chicago office hangs 10 framed aquatints of mathematical equations known as The Concinnitas Project.

The project, which has been displayed in art exhibits around the world, is the response of mathematicians and physicists who were prompted to write out their “most beautiful mathematical expression.”

By nature of the equations’ complexity, few laypeople will be able to decipher them. But for office managing partner Scott Meyers, it’s less about what each specific equation means (though their explanations are also framed on a wall outside of the room) and more about how they tie into what Akerman stands for as a firm.

“They demonstrate artistic creativity, technical precision and intellectual rigor, all of which are elements of the practice of law, and all which Akerman brings to bear,” Meyers said. “It’s the essence of what we aspire to be.”

Meyers and his colleagues have been working to grow the Florida-based Akerman’s first Midwest office since it opened its doors in February 2014 on the 46th floor of 71 S. Wacker Drive. Soon after, the firm expanded to the 21st floor.

Now, Akerman is planning its first major expansion by taking over the entire 47th and 48th floors. The move will start next year.

The two floors up for conversion are currently occupied by Hyatt Corp.; the 48th floor is currently a large kitchen and dining area with pristine eastward views of downtown and Lake Michigan. Meyers said they wish to convert that space into a conference room with walls that can split it into several rooms while maintaining the kitchen area in the event that the firm wants to use it for hosting.

The expansion will add about 41,000 square feet to the office’s existing 33,000, and is designed to eventually grow the office’s footprint from its current 48 attorneys to about 90.

“It’s not a magic number that we’re trying to get to, but long as we can find excellent lawyers that want to be part of this experience, we’ll keep the door open and lights on,” Meyers said. “Even our youngest associates have budgets for marketing dedicated to our expanding team.”

New to the Midwest

Akerman was founded in Orlando, Fla., in 1920; Meyers said its goal was to become the largest law firm in Florida before expanding outside of the state. The firm now has more than 650 attorneys in 24 offices across the country.

Akerman had business in Chicago and throughout the Midwest for several years prior to the 2014 opening, so it made sense to eventually establish an office in the region.

“We worked backwards from our client needs when we put together the office,” Meyers said. “More and more, we saw an increase in client demand in the areas of complex commercial litigation and transactions. Assembling a talented group of lawyers in Chicago was a logical step for Akerman.”

The Chicago office was Akerman’s 20th — it got its start when Meyers and six other attorneys who defected from a Chicago firm linked up with an Akerman attorney who operated independently in the region.

Many of the founding partners drew upon their experience in Big Law to help shape the new office’s culture.

“We had ideas about what would work in Chicago and what wouldn’t,” Meyers said. “We synthesized our experiences and best practices and spent a long time trying to find the right fit. What impressed us when we met with Akerman was their ability to distill the benefits of a large office platform.”

The office started with the eight founders practicing litigation, intellectual property and real estate cases; it has since grown six times over and now has lawyers practicing in all areas in which the firm offers services.

An eye on the future

Akerman recently launched the legal industry’s first national R&D Council, a co-venture with the firm’s clients designed to innovate through the use of market trends, changing client needs and other activities. The council will play a role in the future of the Chicago office as it grows.

“It’s a 100-year-old firm that really works like a first-generation firm in terms of entrepreneurialism,” Meyers said. “We certainly have institutional clients, but the firm is very committed to not only expanding those relationships but developing new ones. We’re trying to figure out what’s next instead of having it sneak up on us.”

Some of those changes will play out in the physical layout of the office, whose football-shaped floor plan Meyers likened to the head of Stewie Griffin from the “Family Guy” animated television show.

He said the not-yet-chosen architect will take an organic approach to rehabbing the existing space on the 46th and 21st floors. Current plans include more glass to invite natural sunlight and methods to improve upon the office’s open, collaboration-fostering culture.

“Our dedication to collaboration is why we get the great results that we do,” Meyers said.