Midwest - Law Firms Holland & Knight's Chicago Office: Professional Excellence And Community Involvement

Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Elrod, would you give our readers some idea of your background?

Elrod: Although I have been part of a law firm environment for all of my 23-year career, I am actually a third generation public sector practitioner. My family has a long history of public service in the Chicago area. Both my father and my grandfather were elected public officials in Cook County, and I have the privilege of serving the public sector as well. In my law firm's role as the appointed municipal attorney to dozens of cities and villages, I serve and represent local governments throughout Cook, Lake and DuPage Counties. This local government law practice was originated at my prior firm, Burke, Weaver & Prell which became the Chicago office of Holland & Knight through an amalgamation in February of 2000.

Editor: Can you share with us the factors that went into the decision of the Chicago-based firm of Burke, Weaver & Prell to merge with Holland & Knight?

Elrod: Burke, Weaver & Prell had, for years, been courted by numerous large national firms seeking to establish a base in Chicago, but none were as attractive as Holland & Knight. We knew that it was in our best interests to expand our horizons and merge with a larger organization, but we had no desire to become part of an institution at which we operated merely as a satellite office. What we saw in Holland & Knight and the "one firm" concept that its founding partner Chesterfield Smith had devised - many offices but no dominant headquarters - was an opportunity to be part of an organization with the ability to service clients in a wide range of areas of the law on the basis of need, not location. Holland & Knight assembles the most qualified team from across the firm, regardless of geography, so that the lawyers with the most appropriate experience are assigned to a matter. In 2000 and today, Holland & Knight was and continues to be comprised of lawyers who are clearly at the very top of the profession in terms of expertise and skill. They truly care about the way in which they practice fully as much as the success they achieve and the material benefits that derive from that success. In addition, the firm has a strong commitment to diversity as well as to civic and community affairs. We were a 38-attorney boutique firm at the time we joined Holland & Knight five years ago, and today we are the second largest office in the entire firm, with 168 lawyers.

Editor: What practices are found in the Chicago office?

Elrod: We have a multi-faceted practice base in Chicago. Our commercial litigation, class action and product liability litigation practices account for the majority of the work conducted here. However, we also have a very large and sophisticated real estate transactions and retail leasing practice and highly respected corporate and securities practice. Other practice areas here include land use and zoning, government representation, labor and employment, tax, intellectual property, banking and financial services, family law, and private wealth services.

Editor: Does the Chicago office act as a resource for the entire firm in these particular practices?

Elrod: In the areas of class action and product liability litigation, the attorneys in Chicago provide a tremendous resource for the entire firm. In land use, zoning and government representation, the Chicago office has the highest concentration of lawyers in the firm with that particular expertise. We receive calls regularly tapping into our experience, knowledge and document base. Also, lawyers in the Chicago office serve on national client teams such as real estate and litigation. Through this team approach, we bring in lawyers from across the firm whenever we need expertise and experience in a specific area that may not be resident in Chicago. This service is delivered seamlessly to our clients.

Editor: Who are the clients that the Chicago lawyers of Holland & Knight serve?

Elrod: The clients served out of the Chicago office range from local units of government to regional, national and international corporations in a wide range of industries. With respect to the first group, the Chicago office has the largest municipal and local government client base of any firm in the state of Illinois. In addition, we represent real estate developers, homebuilders, shopping centers, and commercial and industrial property owners and pension funds.

Editor: Would you tell us how your Chicago office clients benefit from working with Holland & Knight?

Elrod: Just by way of example, the local government entities in Chicago have access to attorneys with specialized expertise across all disciplines and practice areas wherever they may reside. Our clients are able to take advantage of our expertise in health care, HIPPA, labor and employment, and the expertise of our public law and appropriations practice before the United States Congress. Holland & Knight has a very sophisticated lobbying practice in Washington, DC, and this constitutes an enormously valuable resource for a wide range of clients, including our Chicago-based clients. Overall, our access to the vast resources of the firm often enables us to address highly complex issues very quickly.

Editor: With the annual ABA meeting coming to Chicago in August, what plans does the firm have to be involved in the meeting?

Elrod: The American Bar Association holds a special place at Holland & Knight. Two of our partners have served as ABA presidents, the late Chesterfield Smith served in the 1970s and more recently Martha Barnett, who is currently the chair of the firm's Directors Committee. Many of our partners hold high level committee positions within the ABA. With respect to the August meeting, we have several events planned. Steve Hanlon, head of the firm's Community Services Team ( pro bono), and I are dinner committee chairs for the Annual Thurgood Marshall Award Dinner on Saturday, August 6. And, on Friday, August 5, we will be hosting a reception in our Chicago office to honor our many partners in committee chair positions.

Editor: Can you describe your work in the Chicago Bar Association and also the role that the Chicago office plays in this particular arena?

Elrod: I have served as the chair of the Bar Association's local government committee, and I am an active member of several other real estate committees. Barb Adams, Peter Friedman, Mark Burkland, Jack Siegel, Andy Gelman and David Mann are among the many Chicago partners that have also served, or are currently serving, as CBA committee chairs. However, I am particularly proud to tell you that one of our partners, Victor Henderson, was recently elected to the office of second vice president, which puts him in line to be president of the CBA in two years. We take a great deal of pride in the role we have played, and continue to play, in the Chicago Bar Association.

Editor: Holland & Knight has a wonderful reputation in the field of civic and community involvement, in addition to bar association work. Would you tell us about the role that the Chicago office plays in the city?

Elrod: The lawyers in Holland & Knight's Chicago office take the concept of civic and community service very seriously. Volunteering, teaching and serving on boards of directors of community organizations is highly embraced in our office. For example, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, Andy Gelman is vice-chair of the board of directors of the Children's Memorial Hospital Research Center; Mike Ranallo is the vice president of the board of directors of Renaissance Social Services, Inc.; Tom Woodrow is on the board of directors of Christopher House; Scott Petersen is on the board, and recent past president, of The Manuscript Society; Ed Ryan is a life trustee and past chairman of the Community House in the West suburbs; and Vic Filippini is on the board of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. In addition, Todd Parkhurst is an adjunct professor of law at Chicago-Kent Law School; David Mann and Henry Allen are adjunct professors at Northwestern University School of Law; and Julie Tappendorf is an adjunct professor at John Marshall Law School.

Editor: You mentioned pro bono undertakings. The firm's efforts in this area are really quite extraordinary. Tell us about the pro bono work of the Chicago office.

Elrod: We take tremendous pride in our office's pro bono efforts and believe that we make a valuable contribution both to the community and to the firm-wide commitment to pro bono that is one of the defining characteristics of Holland & Knight. Most recently, our attorneys began to work on a new firm-wide undertaking to provide free legal services to immigrant and refugee children. We are also partnering with one of our clients, Excelon, to provide special education services. We provide services to CDEL, the Center on Disability and Elder Law; and we are actively involved in the activities of the Public Interest Law Institute. These undertakings are in addition to the traditional representation of the indigent that is at the heart of a pro bono program. We recently learned that CDEL has awarded our Chicago office its prestigious Law Firm of the Year award for 2005.

Editor: Regarding law graduates and lateral hires, how do you pitch the Chicago office?

Elrod: I emphasize the firm's culture, including its commitment to professional development, which is exemplified by the hiring of a Chief Professional Development Officer in 2004. I also emphasize the firm's strong commitment to diversity, and the support extended to community and pro bono activities. The Chicago office offers a pleasant working atmosphere for both lawyers and staff. It is a very collegial workplace that provides its young lawyers with assignments that are both challenging and interesting. Holland & Knight attracts a unique kind of attorney. I view it as a big firm, with an even bigger heart.

Please email the interviewee at steven.elrod@hklaw.com with questions about this interview.