Coming together

Polsinelli’s brand-new space in a brand-new building looks to bring the firm together

Polsinelli’s brand-new space in a brand-new building looks to bring the firm together - Photo by Rena Naltsas
By Dustin J. Seibert
Chicago Lawyer correspondent

It wasn’t so much that the partners of Polsinelli’s Chicago office disliked their office space at the Grant Thornton Tower at 161 N. Clark St. — it’s that it simply became inconvenient.

When the firm initially moved into that space in 2009, it took up about 29,000 square feet across the 41st and 42nd floors. But three separate expansions in the following years left them scattered across 4½ floors on three sides of the building.

“It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t optimal in terms of integration and cross work and practice groups working with others and being in close proximity,” said managing partner Anthony Nasharr. “We’d become disconnected and were motivated to get everyone closer together.”

“While we loved the building and tried mightily to stay there, it became clear we couldn’t relocate another tenant or move to a more convenient space within it.”

And thus began the search to find a new space for Polsinelli’s Chicago office at the beginning of 2015.

That search lead to the eventual signing of a 13-year lease at 150 North Riverside Plaza, a then-unbuilt skyscraper on the west bank of the Chicago River. Construction on the new space began Aug. 1, 2016, and took 32 weeks to complete, concluding with a weekend move-in on March 13.

‘A bit better here’

The firm takes up 85,557 square feet across three floors — 29 to 31 — with an option to lease the 28th floor that would give it another 40 offices and 27,000 square feet. While the new space is technically a 4,000-square-foot drop from its Grant Thornton Tower office, Nasharr doesn’t consider it a downgrade.

“These are bigger and rectangular floor plates in this building,” he said. “In our old space, we had 122 perimeter offices and about 20 interior offices. Here, we have 130 perimeter offices and 30 interiors. The efficiency wasn’t bad [at the old office], it’s just a bit better here.”

Indeed, efficiency and convenience were significant considerations in the new space as they relate to collaboration among staff, especially between different practice areas, said Nasharr.

“We have a very busy practice; our real estate and finance lawyers [have] very aggressive practices with a lot going on that touches other departments,” Nasharr said. “To collaborate with them wasn’t impossible at the old office, but now they can just come out of their offices and everyone is there. It’s an easier environment.”

There are several lounges and open spaces on each floor that invite the staff of 155 (including 100 attorneys) to link up with each other or to enjoy moments of solitude away from their office — from café and coffee stations to lounge areas with comfortable chairs, the Chicago River and scenic views of the city.

“We have features on all three floors that are designed to have people come out of their offices for,” Nasharr said.

Polsinelli was in the unique position to make many of its design decisions based around the fact that they were moving to a building that had yet to break ground when they signed the lease. This includes the decision to build an internal staircase that makes it easier for staff to move within the office.

“That [the staircase] built out in the plan as opposed to cutting a hole through an existing floor made it a whole lot easier,” Nasharr said. “All the steel was set and didn’t have to be reconfigured post-construction.”

Tone and vibe

Polsinelli opened its original Chicago office Jan. 1, 2006, at the Prudential Plaza on 130 E. Randolph St. Of the general practice firm’s 20 nationwide offices, Chicago is its third largest, next to the flagship Kansas City, Mo., office and the St. Louis office.

Kansas City-based architecture firm HOK designed the Chicago office, as it did the Atlanta, Denver and Kansas City Polsinelli offices. HOK hewed close to the aesthetic of the Grant Thornton Tower office by ensuring that the space looks clean and modern without appearing ostentatious — the hallway floors are covered with manufactured tile that looks like marble; cloth-upholstered furniture exists where one might find brushed leather furniture in another firm’s office.

“HOK has consistently understood the tone and vibe we’re going for,” Nasharr said. “It’s nice, but not ‘oh my gosh this is craziness.’ We’re a middle-market firm catering to companies owned by the owner; we don’t want owners coming in to our office only to find out they didn’t hire us because our space scared the crap out of them.”

Several of the upgrades from the previous office have been non-aesthetic in nature, including more and improved microphones and larger screens for teleconferencing in the conference rooms, which are all named after Chicago neighborhoods (Lakeview, Pilsen, etc.).

“We had good tech before, but given the opportunity to upgrade it, we made it easier to fit people calling in from others offices onto one screen,” Nasharr said.

As is to be expected with any move to a new office, some employees have embraced the changes sooner than others. But when asked about how everyone is adjusting, he read an e-mail that he received from a semidisabled employee letting him know that she appreciated the accessibility of the new space and the helpfulness of the building’s security staff.

“She was originally worried about coming over here, and she reached out to let me know she thinks it’s an exceptional place,” he said. “That makes it all worth it.”