Law firm moves into unique, open office space

May 12, 2010  |  Staff Writer  |  Print Article  |  Email this Article


By John Flynn Rooney
Law Bulletin staff writer

Chicago lawyer Michael Childress conducted four meetings Wednesday on the rooftop deck of his law firm’s new offices.

The outdoor deck on the 13th floor at 500 N. Dearborn Street also serves as a lunch spot for employees of Childress, Duffy, Goldblatt Ltd.

“We had a happy hour up here kind of spontaneously,” Childress said, adding that a Friday night movie event on the deck is planned.

During the coming months, a “tagging” event is expected. Teams of employees will be set loose with spray paint cans to cover sections of the deck in whatever designs they want to create, Childress said.

The firm, which concentrates its practice on representing policyholders in insurance disputes, moved to the new location in early April. After working with a broker, the firm relocated from an office building about a block west from 515 N. State, where employees could see the roof deck from the 22d floor, Childress said.

“We looked at [the] building that had a roof deck,” partner Joel N. Goldblatt said. “That caught on and resonated.”

The move allowed for a more open layout in which partners share offices, while associates and staffers work side-by-side rather than in cubicles.

“I don’t miss a wall,” said associate Christina M. Phillips. “I don’t miss a door.”

Associate Matthew P. Fortin said of the new space, “It’s a physical incarnation of the way that we always wanted to practice, even in the old space.”

The new space fosters collaboration among employees, Childress said.

The two floors occupied by the firm and the rooftop deck have wireless access. The firm’s 20 lawyers all have laptop computers, which allows them to serve clients nationwide when they work in the firm’s Florida or Texas offices.

Last Friday morning, Phillips arrived at the office early and headed to the roof deck with her laptop for several hours.

“It didn’t feel like work for 3 1/2 hours in the morning,” Phillips said during an interview on the deck Wednesday.

The move to the loft space is meant to eliminate many of the barriers familiar in law offices, such as auspicious corner offices for partners, Childress said.

“That stuff doesn’t matter anymore,” said name partner Michael W. Duffy, who shares an office with fellow partner, Christopher N. Mammel.

Most of the Childress, Duffy lawyers came from large law firms or were sole practitioners, Childress said.

Parts of the 13,000 square-foot office space are painted in bright primary colors. The space also includes a coffee bar and areas with comfortable sofas and flat-screen televisions. The coffee bar area is meant to provide space for employees to socialize, Childress said.

“It’s more like you work at home,” Childress said.

Childress stressed, however, that the new space includes private areas where lawyers can close the door to work on briefs and other matters.

A massage table remained in a small office on Wednesday.

Childress explained that a masseuse typically visits the office on Tuesdays.

“She just grabs you if you look like you need a massage,” Childress said.

In the fall of 2009, the Childress firm began an effort to greatly reduce the amount of paper used by employees, said Thomas J. Loucks, the firm’s managing partner and Childress’ office mate.

“Some people I wouldn’t have expected, picked it up easily,” Loucks said of the shift to using less paper.

When the firm moved, there were fewer files and boxes involved.

“We’re not saying you can’t have paper,” Childress said. “We’re saying there’s no point in keeping it.”

Many of the firm’s files are now housed electronically on the Internet and are accessible from anywhere in the world,” Childress said.

Paper files still exist in the office. But employees use less paper, pens, and paper clips, Childress said.

“You have to develop new habits,” Childress said.

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