How One of Chicago’s Most Innovative Law Firms Preserves and Grows a Culture of Collaboration and Productivity 25 Years On
(Photo: Exterior facade of Barlit Beck’s office. This building was the first “modern” courthouse in America. The arched entry façade is carved with the figures of Truth and Justice, which remain the stock and trade of Bartlit Beck © Garrett Rowland | Design by Gensler)
Chicago Ideas Partner Bartlit Beck is celebrating a milestone this year with the firm’s 25th anniversary. As with most milestones, Bartlit Beck’s 25th year has brought many exciting changes for the team. This year, they debuted a state-of-the-art office that more closely matches the collaborative culture of the firm and its employees. We sat down with Managing Partner Jason Peltz to learn more about how Bartlit Beck is embracing innovation, how they continue to grow a culture of collaboration, and what they will do to move forward toward the next 25.
Bartlit Beck celebrated its 25th year this October. What does this year represent and what is next for the firm?
This has been a year of many exciting changes for the firm. This year I became managing partner, which has been a humbling and also exciting experience. I’m looking to preserve the firm’s DNA and culture as we find new ways to push the envelope of legal innovation to best serve clients. In my two decades with the firm, we have never had the depth and breadth of talent that we have now. I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to build on Bartlit Beck’s successful 25 years as we move into our next era.
An exciting part of this has been the complete redesign of our new offices in both Denver and here in Chicago. Our office spaces in both cities have been transformed into innovative and collaborative workspaces that are modeled to reinforce our firm’s culture and client-centric philosophy. These are very different from your typical law firm office . It’s more akin to the modern, open plan offices you see at tech companies where collaboration is critical to success.
Bartlit Beck’s Chicago office building holds some historical significance. Tell us about its history and how it relates to the firm.
This building was the first “modern” courthouse in America and was designated as a Chicago Landmark in 1993, the same year as our firm’s founding. The arched entry façade is carved with the figures of Truth and Justice, which remain the stock and trade of Bartlit Beck. Many historic cases were tried in the building during its lifetime as a court, so it’s a fitting home for Bartlit Beck.
Without a doubt, our new mock courtroom has quickly become a favorite space in the Chicago office. We are a firm of trial lawyers and we are known for our deep experience and success in the courtroom. Bartlit Beck lawyers average about 6 trial deployments per year. Even though our average lawyer has roughly 13 years’ experience trying cases, the opportunity to run through mock trials and practice in a true-to-life courtroom setting is invaluable to successful client outcomes at trial. It’s also a great space for the firm to train younger lawyers in the “art” of trying cases.
The new space has fewer offices and more “open plan” space, which is somewhat unusual for a law firm. Why did the firm decide to layout the office differently?
Bartlit Beck lawyers staff cases in a way that is fundamentally different from most firms. All of our teams are comprised of multiple highly experienced partners and one or two associates. This structure promotes engagement from all levels and a hands-on approach. Our teams are small, and every member is deeply involved in the case rather than spread over many matters. Each year, 50% of our associates and 70% of partners appear in court on substantive issues, meaning clients are getting the benefit of lawyers with significant experience. When designing the new office, we built spaces that facilitate teamwork so that our lawyers could better work together to prepare the case for trial and, ultimately, achieve the best results for clients.
The firm values innovation in both its operations and how Bartlit Beck lawyers try cases. In designing the new Chicago office, what spaces were hatched from an untraditional idea for an office, or “dreamed up”?
Our “forum” is a really unique work space for our team, especially when compared to a traditional law firm’s office. We purposefully designed the new office space to increase successful client outcomes. At Bartlit Beck, collaboration from the trial team is critical to helping our clients win cases. The culture here relies on lawyers being intimately involved with every aspect of a client’s case and sharing their ideas and best practices, whether they have 5 years’ or 25 years’ experience. We wanted to encourage a free flow of good ideas and expertise in every way and the workplace reflects that. The new forum serves as a multifunctional workspace that can be adapted for all types of collaboration, promoting flexibility while enabling productivity. It’s functional but also informal enough (see the basketball hoop!) to foster fruitful brainstorming sessions and help our lawyers think creatively.
Bartlit Beck is known for fostering talent within the firm, in contrast with more typical law firms that hire partners externally. Many companies struggle to attract, retain, and grow top talent. How does Bartlit Beck approach this?
There are a few reasons that we are able to attract the highest caliber of lawyers that we do, and perhaps most important among those is our stated commitment to investing in and growing our lawyers throughout their career. Because of the volume and quality of cases that we work on, as well as the way we intentionally structure our teams, Bartlit Beck lawyers very quickly gain valuable trial experience. In fact, it’s customary for new lawyers to immediately integrate into a trial team to shadow partners in their very first weeks at the firm. This is quite unheard of in our industry. And, the fact that our lawyers at all levels get to work on some of the country’s toughest and most interesting high-stakes matters is attractive to the kind of brilliant minds we want to hire.