In some ways, it’s hard to spot just how unusual Husch Blackwell’s nationwide all-virtual office really is.
Husch launched The Link in July 2020, and one year later its attorneys are still working from home. Of course, so is the rest of Husch as well as the legal community in general.
Yet over the course of its first year The Link has more than doubled in size. It currently has a headcount of 108 (including 76 attorneys), making it the fourth largest office in the firm. It has personnel in 29 cities, ranging from places you’d expect (St. Louis and Kansas City, where more than 40 Link attorneys and staff are located) to places you wouldn’t (Bloomington, Illinois and Incline Village, Nevada).
“We’ve gotten attorneys in cities where we otherwise haven’t recruited before,” said Jennifer Dlugosz, a Chicago-based partner who helps lead The Link. It has become an attractive option, she said, for “folks that want to be at an Am Law 100 firm, want to have challenging work but are not in a city where Am Law 100 firms have historically set up shop.”
That growth is expected to continue. Later this year, The Link plans to add about 70 support staff to its roster, spread out across the country. Even firm leaders are making the leap: in June, the firm added Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Amanda Garcia-Williams as the first c-level executive to join the virtual office. She is based in Lansing, Michigan.
Although the idea for The Link was hatched before the COVID-19 crisis hit, its timing in some ways couldn’t have been better. The legal industry’s rapid move to virtual operations both proved that it could be done on a large scale and demonstrated to many lawyers that blending work and home was a more satisfying way to practice law.
Still, the office’s long-term success will take a slightly different approach, said the office’s managing partner, J.Y. Miller.
“Other firms have learned to work from home, but they’re all planning to go back to the office environment to some degree or another,” he said. “There’s a huge section of us who are planning to stay here in this virtual office, so we’re forced to be more intentional, to put more thought into this and to build that infrastructure that really connects people. We can’t take anything for granted.”
For example, Dlugosz appeared by video in a “2021 Office Olympics” T-shirt, a Link-wide virtual team-building event. And next month, members plan to meet in-person in St. Louis. Miller himself is based in St. Louis, but he spoke by video during a vacation in Wisconsin.
“You never know where a Link member is going to be when you talk to them,” he said.
Despite the virtual concept’s success, Husch is certainly not done with physical offices. The firm recently announced that it is acquiring a boutique health-care practice in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island effective Sept. 1. It both is and isn’t an expansion of the firm’s geographical reach; although the New England operation will constitute Husch’s 23rd physical office, The Link already has two attorneys in Massachusetts.
Seventeen Link “offices” are based in cities where Husch already has a brick-and-mortar operation. Other Link personnel are the only Husch representatives in their states.
“If anything we want to erase any boundary that in the past we might have had between offices, between practice groups, between any other divisions we might have,” Miller said. “We want to break all of those down and have one cohesive ‘one firm’ team serving our clients, serving our people. I think The Link will continue to help us accomplish that.”