Kelley Drye's Chicago Office: Success From Small Beginnings

Friday, June 1, 2007 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Kelly, would you give our readers some idea of your professional experience?

Kelly: I grew up in the Chicago area and attended John Marshall Law School, graduating in 1987. I began working for a small firm in Chicago. During the early 1990s I began to focus more and more of my practice in the telecommunications field, and by 1995 almost all of my time was in this area. I joined Kelley Drye in 2003.

Editor: What were the things that attracted you to Kelley Drye?

Kelly: As the communications field became more national in scope, I began to look for a firm with a broad-based communications presence, one that would provide me with an opportunity to represent clients on a national basis. Kelley Drye did not have a significant communications presence in Chicago, but its communications group was very prominent throughout the nation. It has worked out extremely well. The people in the firm's Chicago and other offices are wonderful to work with, and I find that the resources that I can bring to serving the firm's clients are immeasurable.

Editor: Please tell us about your practice. How has it evolved over the time you have been at Kelley Drye?

Kelly: Because of its expertise in the communications field, Kelley Drye has given me very significant opportunities to handle a variety of state regulatory work, both at the State Public Service Commission here in Illinois and in a number of other states. This includes states as far afield as California and Georgia.

The resources the firm possesses enable me to provide a much greater depth of service to our clients than was the case when I was with a smaller firm. Kelley Drye is able to assess developments at the Federal Communications Commission very quickly - our East Coast presence is invaluable in this regard - and I find myself having access to industry experts to a far greater degree than I did just a few years ago. This is a great advantage in serving national clients.

Editor: If you can, would you share with us the thinking that went into establishing a presence in Chicago?

Kelly: The office was started in 1988 by a group of lawyers doing product liability litigation defense work. They joined Kelley Drye as a group from Sidley & Austin. The original intention was to have the office function as a litigation boutique representing product liability clients and doing defense work on a national scope. Much of this was asbestos defense work and other mass-tort litigation conducted on a nationwide basis. Several years later the firm decided that the Chicago office should be more than that. A number of different groups were brought into the fold, including the telecommunications practice. The intention is to continue to grow the office and diversify its areas of expertise.

Editor: And the office today?

Kelly: We have 20 attorneys practicing in the areas of corporate transactions, outsourcing, intellectual property, telecommunications and litigation.

Editor: How about clients? Are they Chicago- or Midwest-centric clients?

Kelly: In the corporate area many of our clients are Chicago- or Midwest-based. Chase Bank and its affiliates are clients, and the work we do for them is in Chicago. The venture capital firms we represent are primarily Midwest-based. Our litigation work is more national in scope, however. We handle considerable products liability work for exercise equipment manufacturers on a nationwide basis. Another example of how our litigation work is national in scope: we represent American Blind & Wallpaper, a California enterprise, in litigation against Google pending in California, and we have litigation matters in the Bahamas. The telecommunications, litigation and regulatory work that we handle is clearly national. We have cases pending in Ohio, California, Connecticut, Georgia, and so forth.

Editor: How do you go about recruiting law graduates or lateral hires for the Chicago office? How do you sell the office?

Kelly: For associates - either law graduates or young laterals - we think the most attractive aspect of the Chicago office is its being part of a national platform, with all of the expertise and the resources that that entails, while, at the same time, offering the workplace atmosphere of a small firm. For a litigation associate, that means more courtroom experience, more client contact, and more responsibility than would be the case at a national firm with a 400-lawyer office. At the same time, because Kelley Drye is a national law firm, there are plenty of big-case opportunities.

For more seasoned lateral hires, we try to sell the people and the practice groups that reside here and, indeed, across the firm. Our Washington, DC office merged with Collier Shannon last spring, bringing to us a number of quite unique practice groups that give us a real opportunity to represent clients before the FDA, the FTC, the FCC and a variety of international trade agencies. That is extremely important to ambitious laterals.

There is also a very strong workplace culture at Kelley Drye. It is a very democratic place, and there is an opportunity for a person to develop his or her practice without strict oversight - and yet with a great deal of support - on the part of firm management. There is a great deal of sharing of personnel and of expertise and information within the firm, and while that is not unique to Kelley Drye, it is a very positive point to make in attempting to bring in new talent. We have a committee that interviews, on an annual basis, each partner on his or her business plan for the year, and recommendations on partner compensation are made on a basis that is open to all. All of this constitutes a tremendous investment of people's time, but it has the result of making everyone feel that they are full participants in the enterprise.

Editor: How does the Chicago operation fit into the firm-wide structure? I gather the entire firm's resources - in terms of expertise and personnel - are available to the Chicago office, and that, in turn, your people are on call to support the efforts of the firm's other offices.

Kelly: It does work both ways. My practice is integrated across the firm, most closely with our Washington, DC office. The entire telecommunications group meets on a regular basis, and the same is true of the corporate group here in Chicago. While the corporate lawyers in this office do much of their work for Chicago-based clients, they are also engaged on behalf of clients in New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC, and, of course, they are able to call upon people in the firm's other offices to assist on projects that originate in Chicago. One of our attorneys is part of a team, mostly drawn from Washington, DC, engaged on an antitrust case in Minnesota.

I am, of course, very much at home at the firm's Chicago office, but at the same time I am very much a part of a telecommunications group that extends across the entire firm, and I am also a full participant in the firm-wide enterprise.

The beneficiaries of this integration though are our clients, and this may be what distinguishes Kelley Drye from other multi-city firms. Kelley Drye has the right size and scope that can really bring value to our clients. We spend a great deal of time and effort making sure that the different practice groups and attorneys are aware of what others in the firm are doing, and we get to know each other professionally and socially, and we are therefore aware of the strengths that we have in our different locations. We're large enough that different resources can be brought to bear to solve client problems, but we are not so large that we cannot take advantage of those resources efficiently and cost-effectively.

Editor: Kelley Drye's community undertakings are celebrated. Would you share with us how the Chicago attorneys' community service reflects the firm's culture?

Kelly: One aspect I appreciate most about the attorneys in our office is their commitment to the community. All of our attorneys, partners and associates, make significant contributions to community organizations, not-for-profit organizations, and other charitable organizations.

Editor: Is there anything you would like to add?

Kelly: The Chicago office is a microcosm of the firm as a whole. The people here are very solid, and there is a mutually supportive culture that makes for a very positive workplace. The most significant factor behind the success of the firm and each of its offices, Chicago included, is, I believe, the tone that the firm consciously sets for itself.

Please email the interviewee at with questions about this interview.