From ‘Blood in Streets’ to Sleek New Digs for Cheng Cohen
Amy Cheng in new headquarters for Cheng Cohen, the boutique franchise law firm founded in 2007.
Cheng Cohen law firm has sleek new office space in the River North neighborhood in Chicago, featuring 16,750 square feet, multiple gathering spaces for small-group interaction, a black-and-white aesthetic punctuated with red accents and ample room for 16 attorneys plus staff. It’s a long way from their first digs.
“There was blood in the streets,” literally, says Ric Cohen dramatically, referring to 2007 when he and business partner and wife, Amy Cheng, packed up a few boxes where they worked at DLA Piper to strike out on their own.
They moved to Chicago’s West Loop, at the time the meatpacking district and now one of the trendiest neighborhoods. They had to leave their old firm and open their new one in the same day because they couldn’t afford any down time.
The second headquarters for the boutique franchise law firm featured about 10,000 square feet but they outgrew it. “We had four lawyers in one conference room” at the old place, Cheng said last week while giving a tour. The space was completely gutted and remodeled to their specifications and includes a room with miniature furniture where the attorneys’ kids can play office when they come to visit.
Cohen, Cheng and their third partner, Michael Daigle, picked their offices first, and then the rest of the staff rated spaces as their first, second or third choice—all but two got their first choice and those two got their second, she said. Cheng labeled each office “L” for litigators or “T” for transactional, and put them side by side so the two types of attorneys would mingle, not stay in their own silos.
Accents from Cheng’s heritage appear throughout the space. She grew up in Taiwan where her father was an entrepreneur. His brother had moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to work as an engineer in the oil fields, but when he wanted to open a restaurant her father lent the money. “But it wasn’t going well,” Cheng recalled, so the family picked up and moved to Tulsa. Cheng was eight; her brother was five. “No one spoke a word of English,” Cheng said, leading to a couple of miserable years while she watched “Scooby-Doo”and other TV shows to pick up the language.
Cheng graduated magna cum laude with her Juris Doctorate from American University and her younger brother is a medical doctor, but she said her parents were far from the demanding and strict “tiger mom” stereotype in popular literature. “They were busy trying to survive,” she said.
During the tour, Cheng introduces Joanna Lim, the office manager who was with Cheng Cohen from the beginning. Lim oversaw the details of the move and it wouldn’t have happened without her, Cheng said.
Cheng says she’ll never move again if she can help it, but Lim disagrees. “When you got to 50,” meaning attorneys, they’ll need to upgrade once more. “Some day there will be a building with Amy’s name on it,” Lim says.