Sweet home Chicago

Chicago is a major business centre for the US and has been long served by a core of law firms with Windy City roots. Chicago's top firms – Kirkland & Ellis, Mayer Brown & Platt, McDermott Will & Emery, Sidley & Austin and Winston & Strawn – have the histories, geographical presence, client and deals lists, practices and financial statistics to contend with legal market leaders from anywhere in the country, or indeed the world. Enviable credentials and a good dose of common sense is why Fortune 100 stars, mid-sized corporations and emerging businesses alike, particularly those that call the Midwest their home, rely on Chicago firms to solve their local, national and international legal matters.`Founded in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Chicago's top-tier firms have been working on client matters for as long as their Wall Street counterparts. This strong historical footing and the resulting long-term loyalties from the Midwest's flagship clients, have made Chicago a challenge for out-of-town firms seeking to make inroads. Only one of the major New York-based firms, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, has a Chicago office. Conversely, all of the top Chicago-based firms have New York offices.`Chicago-based firms are committed to servicing their clients in New York, Los Angeles and other major US financial districts. Washington DC, as the centre for handling the government's regulatory matters, is another standard address for Chicago firms. Moreover, as the Midwest's traditional clients have expanded their businesses globally, their lawyers have seen fit to support them internationally. This strategy has led to offices in London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Hong Kong and other world business centres.`Well-known multinational companies such as Caterpillar, Motorola, Bank One Corporation, UAL Corporation, McDonald's, Household International and Allstate look to firms with home addresses in Chicago to handle their major transactional, regulatory and litigation work. Recent corporate projects of note include Suiza Foods Corporation's announced purchase of Dean Foods for $1.5bn (£1.04bn); General Dynamics Corporation's agreement to acquire Newport News Shipbuilding in a transaction valued at $2.1bn (£1.46bn); and Finnish forestry giant Stora Enso Oyj's $5.9bn (£4.1bn) purchase of Wisconsin-based Consolidated Papers. Big-ticket litigation projects involving Chicago-based legal teams include the multibillion dollar tobacco fee litigation, a highly publicised genetically engineered corn case, and numerous nationwide consumer class actions concerning issues such as airline ticket taxes, rental car charges, orange juice dilution, insurance policy coverage and lending and credit reporting practices.`When put up against the corporate bluebloods in the East and the techies in the West, Chicago's top firms hold their own. In terms of practice areas, much like geographical reach, Chicago-based firms have grown their practices around their clients' needs. While practices on the coasts tend to concentrate on finance and technology, the heartland of the US is home to companies in the technology, finance, manufacturing, consulting, telecommunications and other industries. Because there is a more diverse base of clients to serve, even firms recognised as tax or litigation powerhouses are generally much more balanced in terms of depth and range of services than their counterparts with anchors on the coasts. Chicago-based firms have developed strong intellectual property (IP), environmental, e-business, private equity, telecommunications and employee benefits practices at national and international levels. Often, these groups, especially when driven by legislative and regulatory activity, are led from offices outside Chicago. And regardless of where a practice group is based, Chicago firms make it a priority to provide their clients – Midwestern, national and international – with the array of legal services necessary to get their business completed.`The American Lawyer's 2000 gross revenue surveys ranked three Chicago firms among the top 10 in the US. Globally, these firms held slots among the top 15. The fact that leading Chicago firms perform well financially and hold attractive client portfolios makes them competitive for the best and brightest. Firms with home offices in the Windy City attract top laterals, build competitive international offices and acquire hot practice groups. Recent lateral acquisitions include former US attorneys with business crimes and antitrust credentials, IP litigators, patent prosecutors and tax gurus. Practices are developing with new or expanded telecommunications, IP, private equity, e-business and international M&A groups. Geographical reach is also a priority, as demonstrated by recent mergers with European-based firms and growth spurts in Silicon Valley, New York, Boston and across the globe.`Chicago's leaders, then, have a good strategy for success. With local history, a global outlook and the practices to support big-time clients, it is no wonder that they rank so well. n“Thomas Murphy is head of corporate at McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago