The buildout is primarily related to Taft hiring more lawyers. Its numbers have doubled here, to 140, since 2014, when Cincinnati-founded Taft moved into Chicago with a deal for Shefsky & Froelich, part of a Midwest expansion plan whose latest manifestation is the Detroit merger with Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss.
Paul Jenson, partner in charge of Taft’s Chicago office, says the Chicago facilities will be able to accommodate 175 lawyers, as more are on the way. That number would have ranked it 12th last year on Crain’s list of the city’s largest law offices, up from 25th, where it appeared.
Taft’s Shefsky roots have paid dividends through ties to gambling industry clients on a roll during the sports-betting boom. Jenson, who also heads that practice, says the firm in particular is recruiting lawyers who specialize in corporate transactional work, including mergers and acquisitions.
The Detroit deal, effective Dec. 31, will give Taft more than 800 lawyers and $525 million in revenue, putting it about No. 85 among the highest-grossing law firms, says Robert Hicks, 61, Taft’s Indianapolis-based chair and managing partner.
He and Janson are sticklers for getting people back to the office—and making those offices part of the reason lawyers want to work at the firm.
“We feel we have to compete for their eyeballs, if you will,” says Hicks, who spent two years in Chicago in the 1990s as head of corporate development for financial services firm CIT Group. “It’s a better way to capture growth, in my mind.”
Jenson says staff is coming to the office four days a week. “What we’re saying to our attorneys: We want you in the office more than not.”
Taft is pursuing the latest vogue in office design by adding and upgrading common areas, but it is drawing the line at leveling the playing field for private space. Partners will still have bigger offices than associates, and associates will have bigger offices than other employees among Chicago’s 106,000 square feet.
In Hicks’ view, hierarchy is a motivator. “We like people wanting to become a partner,” he says. Jenson adds, “We’re attracting a better kind of lateral (hire) in recent years.”
About 15 years ago, starting in Indianapolis, Taft set out to have offices in the Midwest’s biggest cities. With the Detroit deal—its fifth during that period—Taft is represented in seven of the nine largest cities. St. Louis and Kansas City are on the radar, says Hicks.
By the time his second five-year term as chair ends in late 2026, Hicks expects Taft to have 1,100 to 1,200 lawyers.