White & Case sets ambitious Chicago growth plans after opening office with corporate and white collar hires

White & Case sets ambitious Chicago growth plans after opening office with corporate and white collar hires

White & Case is continuing its dynamic growth drive apace as the US vanguard opens an office in Chicago to be spearheaded by Jason Zakia, the head of its disputes practice in the Americas.

The firm has nailed its colours to the mast with a pair of laterals in corporate and white collar, in the form of Gary Silverman and Carolyn Gurland, but plans to expand to more than 100 lawyers in short time.

Zakia, who joined White & Case as an associate in 2003 from Chicago-bred rival Kirkland & Ellis, is relocating to the Windy City from the firm’s Miami office. The new office is part of the firm’s 2020 strategy, which involves targeted, profitable growth, particularly in the US and London, with the aim of cementing a position among the global elite firms.

Silverman is a private equity partner who joins from Greenberg Traurig’s Chicago office where he worked for seven years. Like Zakia, he also has Kirkland pedigree, having worked at that firm for 18 years until 2004. He acts for clients across industries including manufacturing, consumer products, hospitality, life sciences, and media, entertainment and technology.

Gurland is a white collar criminal defense attorney who is returning to White & Case as a partner having worked at the firm’s New York office as an associate. She has been a sole practitioner for the last four years and, before that, served as assistant district attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office prosecuting complex, high-profile financial crimes.

The firm’s 2020 strategy is focused on growth in four key industries—financial institutions, private equity, technology and oil & gas—and three key practices—M&A, capital markets and disputes. Oliver Brettle last month stepped down as White & Case’s London executive partner in order to focus on this strategy.

Brettle told Legal Business: ‘The Midwest economy is as big in GDP terms as the UK or France. It’s a real corporate centre that is home to organisations which are already global or have global ambitions. Opening an office in Chicago that appeals to these businesses will, in time, benefit the rest of the firm including EMEA and Asia-Pacific.’

While only three lawyers strong, the Chicago office is intended to grow dramatically. John Reiss, White & Case’s global head of M&A based in New York, said: ‘We expect the office to expand to 100 lawyers and become a full service location over the next couple of years, and we are working actively to accomplish that.’

In February, the firm acted on its strategic ambitions when it launched a four-partner oil and gas office in Houston. James Cuclis joined from fellow US firm Vinson & Elkins to head up the office, Christopher Richardson and Charlie Ofner went over from local Houston outfit Andrews Kurth Kenyon, while Saul Daniel relocated from the firm’s London office.

At the time, Dave Koschik, head of White & Case’s US growth team, said the firm intended to have at least 15 partners and 50 total lawyers in Houston across the core transactional practices of corporate, finance and projects.