Jones Day's Chicago Office: A Strong Part Of A Regional, National And Global Enterprise

Friday, June 1, 2007 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Ritchie, would you give our readers something about your professional experience?

Ritchie: I am a graduate of the Ohio State University and the University of Virginia Law School, where I was on the law review and graduated in 1971. Following law school I went directly to Jones Day in Cleveland. At that time the firm had about 100 lawyers residing on a single-floor office in Cleveland and a l5-lawyer group in Washington, DC.

I spent 17 years in Cleveland, where I engaged in a general corporate practice, which included serving a group of large public company clients, and in a variety of projects, including corporate finance transactions, M&A work and day-to-day commercial matters. It was a pleasure to be able to work for a number of fine northern Ohio companies such as Republic Steel Corporation and Libbey-Owens-Ford.

With the passage of time the firm's practice became more specialized, and I began to focus my work more on M&A and corporate governance matters. In 1987 I was sent to Chicago to open our office there, and I have served as its Managing Partner since that time. For the last 20 years I have also continued my M&A and corporate governance practice, to which I have added a substantial international dimension. In recent years I have taken on an increased role in firm-wide administration. For example, I am in charge of putting together the firm's annual operating budget on a worldwide basis, and I help on a number of strategic planning matters.

Editor: I understand that the firm's Chicago office just celebrated its 20th anniversary. If you can, would you share with us the thinking that went into establishing a Chicago presence?

Ritchie: By the mid-1980s the firm was fully committed to becoming a truly national law firm. We believed that we needed to operate on a national basis in order to continue to be a premier law firm by taking advantage of growth in other parts of the country. In order to be a national firm, of course, we needed to be in the major commercial and financial centers of the country, and Chicago was very high on the list. In addition, the firm's origins were Midwestern, and many of us had done work for Chicago clients over the years. Another factor that led us to Chicago was the fact that we were experiencing a tremendous boom in our IP practice, and Chicago was, and is, a major center for IP work. The courts in Chicago were favorably disposed to patent protection, and there was an excellent patent bar and a number of high quality IP boutique firms. All of these factors contributed to our desire to establish a presence in Chicago.

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

Ritchie: We currently have about 160 lawyers in the office. With a new class of law graduates joining us, we expect to end the year with about 170 lawyers. We have well established and strong capabilities in all of the firm's significant practices, with particular strength in IP, trial practice, M&A, healthcare (with an emphasis on healthcare finance), energy, and the electric utility industry in particular, and real estate, both in capital markets representing investors and funds and on the corporate side, where we handle real estate transactions for corporate clients. Two other very strong practices are business restructuring and reorganization, which includes our bankruptcy practice, and labor and employment.

Editor: How about clients? Are they Chicago-based?

Ritchie: Actually, both Midwestern and Chicago clients and national clients are served by the Chicago office. In Chicago, Abbott Laboratories is a significant client of the office, as are Motorola, USG, LaSalle Bank and other Chicago institutional clients. We have Midwestern regional clients as well, including Ameren Corporation, which is in St. Louis, HON Industries, an Iowa business furniture manufacturer, Simon Property Group in Indianapolis, CTS in Indiana, and JohnsonDiversy in Wisconsin. In addition, we handle a substantial amount of work for some of the firm's big institutional clients that we represent on a national and even international basis, including IP and labor and employment work for IBM and labor and employment for Wal-Mart. We also do work for Bear Sterns, Morgan Stanley, Bridgestone Firestone and Oklahoma Gas & Electric.

Editor: Would you share with us your thoughts on how the Chicago operation fits into the firm-wide structure?

Ritchie: Jones Day is one firm worldwide. That phrase reflects how we think about running our law firm, and it informs everything we do. We are one partnership worldwide, which means that all of our partners, wherever residing, are part of a single partnership. Administratively, we are organized by Practices. We have 22 formal Practices that are worldwide, and we regard them as the means by which we build and sell our services. For example, our Practices train and evaluate our young lawyers. They ensure quality control, and they make decisions concerning how our projects are staffed. They lead our efforts to develop new markets.

These Practices are all firm-wide, and we try to put together the best teams possible for our clients, based on experience, expertise and geographical reach. It is important, in this regard, to understand that Jones Day is not a home office around which a group of branch or satellite offices revolve. As part of our fundamental approach to the practice of law, we long ago decided that we wanted substantial full-service offices in the major commercial/financial centers where we thought it important to have a presence. That has had the result of eliminating geography in the operational plans for the Practices.

Editor: How does the Chicago office fit into the greater Chicago community?

Ritchie: We are proud to be part of the Chicago community. We recently celebrated our 20th anniversary in Chicago at the Chicago History Museum, where as part of an effort to say thank you to the city we agreed to help support one of Mayor Daly's important community activities, a program called After School Matters. This is our newest activity, but we have been involved in civic and community work from the beginning, including the Sister Cities Program, Neighborhoods in Transition and one of the new charter schools in Chicago. We have one of our lawyers on the 2016 Olympics Committee, which is seeking the Olympic Games for Chicago that year.

We have always believed that pro bono work is important, for its own sake and as an obligation to our profession. However, we did not want to establish an institutionalized program that would simply draft lawyers to participate. Rather, we think it is important for the lawyers themselves to find some project or undertaking that they believe in and wish to pursue. We support these efforts. As a result, we have been engaged in a very wide range of pro bono activities over the years. The single largest activity in this area is our representation of immigrants seeking political asylum in this country. We have done a great deal of this type of work and, as an added benefit, it represents a great opportunity for our young attorneys to get some good courtroom experience. One of our partners, Lee Ann Russo, who is the pro bono coordinator of the Chicago office, recently received an award from the Chicago Bar Association for the terrific work she and her people have been doing on this program.

Editor: How do you go about selling the Chicago office to law graduates and prospective lateral hires?

Ritchie: Chicago is a very competitive market for the best and brightest law school graduates. We feel that we have had a fair share of success in recruiting some of these talented young people. We talk to them about the high quality of our practice, our excellent clients, and the exciting and interesting things those clients are doing as selling points for the Chicago office. At the same time, we focus on our one-firm culture, and we talk about being part of a Chicago office and, at the same time, part of a larger community.

With respect to lateral hires and more senior associates, we find that our firm culture is tremendously important. We have an open partnership, which means that we do not allocate a limited number of partnership slots each year, but rather look at all of the associates who are eligible for partnership on a case by case basis. That resonates with most people.

Like most of Jones Day's offices, the Chicago office is of manageable size. We find that people enjoy the amenities of an office of our size combined with all of the fantastic opportunities that the firm's global footprint offers.

Chicago really sells itself as a city. It is the capital of the Midwest and one of the great American cities. There is a tremendous inflow of talented young professionals into the city from all over the country, and particularly from the region, as a result of opportunities in the legal profession, advertising, accounting, banking and finance, consulting and so on. We do not have to work particularly hard to sell Chicago.

Editor: Over the past 40 years the firm has gone from being a regional firm, with a Cleveland office and a small Washington, DC operation, to one of the few truly global law firms. I think our readers would be very interested to have your thoughts on how - when so many have failed at making this transition - Jones Day has become one of world's great law firms.

Ritchie: We think there are a number of factors behind our success. First and foremost, we have had the ability to attract and retain very talented people, first on a regional basis, then nationally and today on a global basis. This is by far the most important building block. A second factor has to do with the way the firm is managed and operated. Our managing partner system has brought some extraordinary people into the firm's leadership. In my 37 years at Jones Day I have seen five managing partners, each of whom has made a very significant contribution to the firm. We also have a non-transparent partner compensation system. This is important because it has enabled us to build a culture where our partners are focused on the best interests of our clients and not on what will maximize their personal compensation. Our partners believe in a culture where, if we all do the right thing, the firm will be increasingly successful and everyone will benefit. Finally, we undertake strategic planning in a very disciplined and thoughtful way. As we become more geographically diverse, it is more, not less, important to understand why we are in some markets and not in others. And, of course, being geographically diverse forces us to focus on our one-firm culture and ensure that it continues to work.

Please email the interviewee at wpritchie@jonesday.com with questions about this interview.