Winston & Strawn partner William O'Neil tells us about Chicago's rich heritage, especially when it comes to all things private equity and funds-related.
Chambers Associate: What are the current key industry sectors for lawyers in Chicago?
William O'Neil: From our perspective as one of the larger law firms in the city, we believe the following are key industry sectors in Chicago: financial services and banking; pharmaceuticals and medical devices; retail and consumer products; and food, beverage, and agriculture.
"We have seen many of the legacy funds move up-market in fund size and also the emergence of a robust group of middle-market funds in the city."
CA: Which practice areas are currently thriving in the Chicago legal market?
WO: Many practice areas were thriving in Chicago pre-COVID, but one of the most notable was the private equity practice area. Chicago has always been at the forefront of this asset class and the past decade has seen the emergence of several new, very exciting funds. We have seen many of the legacy funds move up-market in fund size and also the emergence of a robust group of middle-market funds in the city. This growth has spawned a tremendous amount of legal work beginning with fund formation and moving to acquisitions and divestitures, with an occasional post-closing deal litigation arising too.
CA: How would you describe the competition between firms in the Chicago legal market?
WO: The competition between Chicago firms has been robust but highly collegial and respectful. We at Winston have tremendous respect for, and friendships with, the other great Chicago-based law firms, yet we aggressively compete with them for both clients and talent at the associate and partner level. That competition, however, usually focuses around “fit” – every large law firm has unique culture and personality – we try to attract lawyers who share our values and ideals.
CA: What do you think the Chicago legal market will look like in five years’ time?
WO: I think it will be very robust. It is truly one of the greatest cities in America with a vibrant business community and a deep and rich legal heritage.
"The competition between Chicago firms has been robust but highly collegial and respectful."
CA: What effects do you think Covid-19 will have on the Chicago legal marketplace in both the short and long term?
WO: I believe most of the significant effects will be short term, but I do think we’ll see some less material long-term effects, including how law firms think about commercial real estate. I think COVID-19 has taught us that we perhaps do not need the massive office foot prints we currently occupy. Lawyers have also become great technologists and are learning to use technology in new and innovative ways, including for oral arguments in court. The net effect of this may be that we’ll all spend less time on airplanes in the post-COVID-19 era.
CA: What do you think are the main pull factors to the Chicago market for law students and lateral talent?
WO: I think the main “pull” for the Chicago legal market is the opportunity to do cutting edge, highly-sophisticated legal work for top dollar in a very livable and comparatively affordable big city populated by warm and friendly people.