Holland & Knight: Continuing Its Strong Commitment To Client Service And Community Involvement In Chicago

Friday, June 1, 2007 - 01:00
Elias Matsakis

Editor: Would you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Matsakis: I graduated from the University of Chicago in 1971 and Harvard Law School in 1974. Over the past 33 years, I have structured complex corporate, real estate and hospital transactions, including nationally rated corporate finance transactions, private placements, hospital-physician joint ventures, and major mixed use commercial developments. Local real estate projects have included representing the developer of the House of Blues Hotel and Club at Marina City and the Hard Rock Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Health industry projects have included the establishment of hospital/physician surgery, cancer treatment and imaging centers, and heart institutes and cardiac cath labs throughout the Midwest.

Editor: How did you come to Holland & Knight?

Matsakis: I came to Holland & Knight when my predecessor firm, McBride Baker & Coles, merged with Holland & Knight in 2002. I was the lead negotiator for McBride Baker & Coles during that transaction.

Editor: What qualities of Holland & Knight made it an ideal merger partner?

Matsakis: We were drawn to Holland & Knight because it had - and continues to have - the country's highest client service reputation and a culture of collegiality and commitment to the profession. Its strong middle market capabilities and international platform complemented our practice areas and matched our strategic need to support our growing client base. Holland & Knight's offices in all of the major money center metropolitan areas on both coasts, combined with its strong DC government and corporate M&A practices and its global reach, fit well with our local capabilities. As a result, our client revenues grew over 25 percent in the year following the merger due to the synergy with our new Chicago and firm-wide lawyers. From an international standpoint, we have particularly helpful ties with the firm's Beijing and Mexico City offices and our financial services strength in Latin America.

Editor: Please tell us about your practice. How has it evolved over the course of your career?

Matsakis: My practice as a young associate was focused on bankruptcy and real estate. I later developed a practice of syndication finance, credit enhancement and structured finance through the creation of bankruptcy remote entities. Early transactions included financing the first cable television and cell phone system providers, public storage warehouses, Comdisco's computer leases, and numerous hotel and multi-family real estate syndications. In the late 90s, I served as outside general counsel for the third largest Spanish language media group, leading them through over a dozen television, radio and print acquisitions and financings and ultimately to a public company exit. During my career, the healthcare industry has been undergoing substantial change. My career followed that change. As one of the lead lawyers for a large local Catholic health system and national physician and hospital management companies, I focused on managed care and compliance issues. In the last decade, I have been doing increasing work in structuring hospital-physician collaborations, hospital campus development projects, and counseling managed care provider entities and physician group practices.

Editor: What was Holland & Knight's strategic objective in establishing a presence in Chicago?

Matsakis: Our city is one of the strongest legal markets, making it a key destination for any firm that wants to have a national presence, particularly because of the strength of its financial, manufacturing, real estate and health and life science industries. Holland & Knight's strategic objective was to expand its presence nationally and globally, and a strong Chicago office fulfilled those objectives. A few years earlier, Holland & Knight had merged with Burke, Weaver & Prell, a successful boutique specializing in land use and government representation, product liability and class action defense litigation. Holland & Knight then added labor and employment and intellectual property lawyers. Following our merger, the Chicago office became full service.

Editor: Would you give us an overview of the Chicago office and its practices?

Matsakis: With 140 lawyers, the Chicago office serves larger middle market clients with strong practice groups in commercial and trade secret litigation, corporate mergers and acquisitions, labor and employment, real estate and land use, private wealth services, and municipal government representation. From an industry standpoint, we have strengthened our long-standing health law, banking and financial services, and commercial real estate practices through recruitment of quality lateral partners from major firms and government service. We have niche practices in information technology, travel industry, banking regulation and entertainment law.

Editor: Are there Chicago-centric clients or particular industry sectors that are served from the Chicago office?

Matsakis: Being part of a national firm, we work with clients with operations around the world. The majority of clients we service from Chicago are headquartered in the Midwest or have significant operations in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The principal industries our office represents include financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, real estate, and local government. The corporate mergers and acquisitions group represents clients in the manufacturing, chemical, healthcare, travel, computer, hospitality, real estate, converging media and finance industries.

Editor: What strengths do you emphasize when recruiting attorneys for the Chicago office?

Matsakis: During the recruitment process, whether seeking summer associates or lateral hires, the conversations often turn to Holland & Knight's culture of giving back to the community and to the profession and its commitment to client service. Throughout the firm, this culture is reflected in the strong pro bono, community and bar association involvement of our attorneys. Many of the young attorneys we interview are very interested in these activities. We are most proud, for example, that our own partner, Victor Henderson, will be named the next President of the Chicago Bar Association.

In addition, when speaking with candidates, we are able to emphasize that in 2006, Holland & Knight was among the top three firms in the nation for superior client service, as ranked by The BTI Consulting Group in a survey of in-house counsel. Over the past six years, we consistently ranked in the service elite with strong showings in all categories of client service measured by that survey. We invest in our younger lawyers through comprehensive professional development, systematic training, and mentoring effort. Notwithstanding our firm's large size, younger lawyers are offered opportunities to develop quickly and take on responsibilities that will accelerate their professional development.

Our commitment to diversity is another firm value that is raised during the interview process. Holland & Knight's Rising Stars and Women's Initiative programs provide mentoring and resources to develop the practices of our women attorneys. Holland & Knight's affinity groups for African American, Hispanic, Gay and Lesbian, and Asian attorneys offer additional ways to support a culture of inclusiveness and have the full support of firm leadership. Diversity in our workplace is essential to our ability to provide the kind of access, perspectives and judgment to meet our clients' expectations for critical thinking, effective communication and unique solutions to their legal problems.

Editor: Please tell us about Chicago as a place to live and work.

Matsakis: I was born in St. Louis, but I have been in Chicago since I began to practice law 33 years ago. I find Chicago to be a highly energetic place to live and work, with a diversity of cultural and recreational activities to complement diverse but strong local communities and schools. It is as challenging as any work environment and I believe that our attorneys are among the country's best in their professionalism. We are becoming an increasingly international city as our local businesses become global in scope.

Editor: How does the Chicago operation fit into the firm-wide structure?

Matsakis: We are organized on a firm-wide, practice management structure and not geographically, so our lawyers work with and collaborate with lawyers across the firm. Every firm-wide group and industry team meets at least monthly via teleconference. Many Chicago partners serve in leadership positions within the firm's management structure.

The collegiality among the firm's lawyers in our various offices and our culture of teaming and responsiveness allow us to call on attorneys at other offices whenever we have a question in an area in which they specialize. Recently, I had a client that needed some corporate finance advice in a Chinese banking matter, I was able to draw on the expertise of various partners in the Washington, DC and Beijing offices. We were able to put together an answer for that client in a matter of seconds.

Editor: How does the Chicago office participate in Holland & Knight's pro bono and community undertakings?

Matsakis: Pro bono is one of the core values of the firm. Pro bono service is extremely important for the success of the country's legal system and is every lawyer's professional responsibility. It provides a sense of satisfaction for the individual attorneys who are able to make a difference in an area where, but for their involvement, a wrong would not have been righted. Finally, most of our pro bono cases are high impact and intellectually and professionally challenging for the attorneys involved.

Holland & Knight established our Community Services Team (CST) to best coordinate our pro bono efforts throughout the firm. We allocate a portion of our revenues to pay for full-time lawyers to meet the needs of the indigent and underserved. Some of the best and brightest full-time attorneys in our office work through the CST. Nevertheless, we expect all lawyers to provide pro bono services.

In the Chicago office we have two attorneys who manage our pro bono activities through the CST. They encourage and support lawyers to make a substantial commitment to pro bono service. In Chicago, we recently teamed with Appleseed Foundation and produced a very significant report on parental involvement as part of the No Child Left Behind initiatives. We also have had major success with a number of asylum cases. Our office has received multiple awards for our representation of senior citizens.

In addition to the pro bono service, our firm also values involvement in community activities. I recently completed six years of service on the high school boards for Glenview and Northbrook. Many of our lawyers serve on the boards of not-for-profit groups in the Chicago area, including universities, medical research societies, schools, parks, and villages. That service commitment helps our lawyers build a network of relationships within our communities - which is one of the things that people value when hiring lawyers. Our Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation supports many causes, including our Opening Doors for Children program, various disaster relief projects and our national Holocaust Remembrance Project. Recently, I was at the dedication of the Fireman's Memorial Wall at Ground Zero, a 56-foot bronze relief of incredible power. The memorial was financed by Holland & Knight lawyers and clients and honors the memory of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, and our own New York partner, Glenn Winuk, a volunteer firefighter who gave his life in the service of others that day.

Please email the interviewee at elias.matsakis@hklaw.com with questions about this interview.