Focus, Law, and Real Estate

Law firms moving into more efficient spaces

Recognizable buildings and nearby amenities are important factors.

February 28, 2014
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When it came time for Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge to expand, it did so by moving part of its space into the Ledyard Building, which is adjacent to the Flat Iron Building. Photo by Michael Buck

The corner office with the citywide view isn’t the attraction feature it once was for law firms.

Lisa Young, marketing manager for CWD Real Estate, said the company’s nearly 40 law firm tenants are looking for smaller and more efficient spaces, are concerned more with proximity to coffee shops, restaurants and other downtown conveniences, and want fresh, cool spaces in recognizable buildings.

“What they want is usable, efficient space,” Young said. “They are looking for less square footage per attorney. They have less support staff, less paper, there isn’t the big file room that you would have seen in the past, and there is more common space for them to work together and collaborate.”

For newer firms, the opportunity to grow is also a big factor in signing a lease.

“When we talk to a firm that is just starting up, they are really interested in flexibility and being able to grow without penalty, so they want to know about lease terms and what other spaces we have available and how we could move walls or reconfigure work stations to allow for their growth.”

To accommodate that need for flexibility and potential growth, CWD offers tenants the option of relocating or expanding within its downtown footprint without having to pay a penalty fee.

“Smith Haughey (Rice & Roegge), when they moved into the Flat Iron Building, they were concerned by the constraints of the building and what if they grew, and their developer said we’ll just break down this wall and move you partially into the Ledyard Building, which they ended up doing,” Young said.

CWD has begun providing office space within its buildings that can be rented or leased by tenants on a short-term basis.

“The mid- to small-sized firms have really maximized the efficiency of their space, which leaves very little room for overflow, and there are definitely times in law firms when there is overflow,” she said.

She pointed out that trials often require additional personnel, visiting counsel, and lots of paperwork, all of which often end up taking over a firm’s conference room.

“We’ve been working on developing some flexible space that attorneys in our buildings can use on an as-needed basis,” she said.

Defense law firm Henn Lesperance is located in the Trust Building, which is one of CWD’s buildings, and the firm’s partners said the rentable office space currently being added is an important feature for their small law firm, which has a part-time associate who will likely move into one of those spaces once it’s completed.

“I know that at the Calder Plaza (building) they have some that you can rent by the hour or the day, but that is something that when I started out 17 years ago didn’t exist,” said Kevin Lesperance, firm partner.

Location also is a major factor in choosing office space.

“They still definitely need that ‘head-down time’ with the door closed, but they also need the impromptu meeting space, and sometimes that means the coffee shop next door or the restaurant down the street, and they need to be in walking distance to everything,” Young said.

It’s also important for firms to be in recognizable buildings so that clients can find their office easily.

Rhoades McKee announced earlier this year it would be moving for the first time in more than 30 years. The firm is moving into the Riverfront Plaza building at 55 Campau NW.

Robert C. Shaver, Rhoades McKee president, said the move had a lot to do with providing an atmosphere that matched the culture and energy of the firm.

“I think this (Riverfront Plaza) space is going to be a lot different feel and a lot different atmosphere than our current space, and that is something that we think is important for the energy of our firm,” Shaver told the Business Journal recently. “That’s the way we are thinking and trying to bring our law firm and culture to the next level.”

The younger generation is definitely a factor firms are considering as they look at updating or changing their office space.

“We’ve been hearing a lot more from our law firms about recruiting, which is interesting,” Young said. “They want the updated, cool space in the core to help with recruiting.

“They see that the work force is going to be 75 percent millennials pretty soon and they want to make sure they are attracting that audience.”

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