A Look Inside Benesch’s New Key Tower Perch

This article is originally from Crain’s Cleveland Business, published January 25, 2024.

New offices on eight floors of Key Tower staked out by the Benesch law firm are bright, sharp and contemporary, with many elements to reflect the firm’s culture. But the most surprising point is that the firm took enough space to allow its main office to grow 20% in the future.

Efficiency is how Gregg Eisenberg, Benesch’s Managing Partner, says the firm accomplished that in the same size footprint it vacated last year at 200 Public Square. Even so, it’s staggering to see newly outfitted offices with empty partner, associate and administrative suites for the future at a time when most firms are downsizing.

“We plan to fill it all,” Eisenberg said with confidence coming from a recent track record for growing organically and through acquisitions. There is room for 225 attorneys in the new suite. Benesch now has 175 in the Cleveland space.

Benesch is following a strategic growth plan it launched in 2015 when it had 140 total attorneys. Now it has 410 attorneys nationally in six offices outside Cleveland from New York City to San Francisco and Shanghai. 

“And our headquarters remains in Cleveland where we started 85 years ago,” Eisenberg said. “We felt we had to stay in downtown Cleveland. And Key Tower had the room we needed.”

The biggest shift in the firm’s office layout is at its main entrance on the 49th floor where it has created what Eisenberg likes to call a “community space.” 

Instead of the small reception area and isolated waiting room at 200 Public Square, the new space is bright and open with a level of design that’s similar to a hotel or restaurant entry in terms of furnishings and finishes.

Besides the area for visitors to sit while waiting for appointments, there is a billboard-sized media wall and a 14-seat bar. A barista prepares coffee full-time. Liquor bottles show it also serves as a spot for cocktails for staffers after hours on Thursdays and there is a table-studded dining room with expansive downtown views. Eisenberg said the space serves several purposes: a location for staff to get coffee and grab a seat to catch up in the mornings as well as firm meetings and for clients.

That’s also more important post-pandemic. The firm has in-office days Tuesday through Thursday and what it calls a “work where you work best” approach to the other weekdays. Benesch had a stairway cut into the floor to connect the 48th and 49th floors.

Attorneys and administrative staff interviewed in the course of a tour of the Benesch office all point to 49 as the biggest shift in the space. There are also booths in coffee/dining rooms on each floor next to soft seating. The 49th floor also accommodates a massive training room — dubbed the Aronoff room in honor of the famed George Aronoff, a long-serving senior partner — reflecting the firm’s commitment to continuing education.

Bob Porter, Vocon Design Director, said, “We designed it so the architecture did not get in the way of Benesch being Benesch.” 

At the get-go, long before Benesch landed at Key Tower, designers were told the firm valued its culture for collaboration between attorneys and education for existing lawyers and the next generation.

The space is designed to be welcoming with warm woods and soft metals, and there is nothing stodgy to find. Benesch also did not miss any opportunity to incorporate its branding in the space. The seats surrounding the bar are the same blue as the background of its logo. A triangular grouping of three triangles on the logo is replicated in the wood background behind the receptionist’s desk. Visitors see the logo on rugs outside the entry doors on each floor. The white lettering of the logo is replicated on walls in the space, sometimes varied with off-white and cream colors.

And, of course, the technology is up to date and conference rooms are set up so in-person professionals and those in other offices or locations are seamlessly present.

The other advantage of the space was that it was already designed to accommodate a law firm, formerly occupied by the Cleveland office of Squire, Patton & Boggs, which downsized its footprint within the tower.

Otherwise, Eisenberg said all eight floors were “stripped down to the bones” to accommodate Benesch. Some big questions for law firms in this period were answered by Benesch years ago. It decided not to consider hotelling lawyers in 2015 when it set on its expansion trek. The firm considered using a standard size for all attorney offices, but Eisenberg said it chose to keep various-sized partner and associates offices, Eisenberg said.

The larger partner offices also fit the firm’s dedication to training younger lawyers. The larger partner private offices have tables to allow them to work easily with more junior lawyers. And associates are frequently located nearby. The partner suites are 14 feet by 14 feet while the associate offices are 10 feet by 14 feet, Porter said, and have one less window than those of the partners.

In Eisenberg’s office, he has a coffee table surrounded by chairs.

“It’s quite a difference to interview someone sitting on a couch,” Eisenberg said, instead of the typical chair facing a desk. His desk, however, has desk blotters for three others to join him at it.

David Mayo, a litigator, began his tenure as a Benesch partner when it was located in what’s now known as the Tiffany Glass Building, then the Citizens Building, 850 Euclid Ave., before it moved to 200 Public Square. He looked around his new office and said it was the same size as his first one.

“This is lovely,” Mayo said of the new office, where he has a pair of binoculars to take advantage of a view of home plate at Progressive Field during baseball season.

The top-to-bottom remake also allowed the firm’s workflow to be improved.

Benesch Legal Administrative Assistant Susan Hill observed that the new office benefits from locating attorneys on the same floor by practice area.

“It started out that way at 200 Public Square,” Hill said, but that changed during the firm’s growth spurts as it added more space over the years. For example, corporate real estate is at 47 and the corporate/commercial finance groups are at 48.

The only section of Benesch’s office where multiple workstations are lined up next to one another is on the 42nd floor, the home for administrative services. All workstations in the law firm’s office are sit-to-stand desks. Attorneys have two sit-to-stand setups, one for a desk and the other for their computer screens and keyboards.

Aside from its own office, the Key Tower location has benefits for Benesch staffers.

“You don’t have to leave the building if you want to get lunch outside the office,” Eisenberg said. “There’s also dining at the Marriott, which is a convenient location for visitors to stay so they don’t have to go outside.” Key Tower and the Marriott are attached on the ground floor.

There’s also something to be said about locating in a skyscraper teeming with bankers, accountants, companies, and other law firms.

Julie Gurney, Benesch’s Director of Practice and Industry Initiatives, said she likes the beautiful appearance of the new office but prizes the atmosphere in the building.

“There’s a buzz here,” she said, “It’s a vibrant and exciting feeling when you come in, much like you feel when you visit New York City.”