(Reuters) – Virtually every major law firm can boast offices in cities such as New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
But what about places off the beaten path, especially glamorous ones like the Hamptons, Aspen or St. Thomas?
As lawyers hesitantly return to the office following the COVID-19 pandemic, a perennial question about law firm real estate is getting a new twist: Where does it make the most sense for big firms to maintain a physical presence in the country?
The pandemic has proven that lawyers can work from almost anywhere effectively and efficiently. But consultants tell me that doesn’t mean companies looking to cut overhead costs should rush to shut down their remote outposts.
If anything, quite the opposite.
“I find that firms are more nimble in small offices these days, really focusing on talent,” said Lisa Smith, director of Fairfax Associates.
Consider Greenberg Traurig.
In early 2022, the 2,500-lawyer law firm opened two new offices in Long Island, New York — one in Bridgehampton, known as a playground for the posh and powerful, and one in Garden City (OK, not exactly paradise).
Executive Chairman Richard Rosenbaum told me the new posts have helped the firm attract and retain lawyers “who no longer want to commute” to Manhattan.
Additionally, the Bridgehampton office offers proximity to a client base of corporate executives, investment bankers and those “who, because of the pandemic, are increasingly spending a lot of time in the Hamptons,” he said. “So-called small markets can be very valuable to clients and ultimately valuable to the (legal) talent and the firm.”
As a marketing bonus, the new office is in the heart of Bridgehampton on Montauk Highway and features a prominent Greenberg Traurig sign. “We’ve had emails from literally all over the world from people who have seen the sign asking, ‘What, are you everywhere?'” Rosenbaum said.
(So … a bit like a high-end version of plaintiffs’ attorney billboards on the highway?)
Long Island co-manager Brian Doyle said the office is also a hit with colleagues visiting the Hamptons. The firms’ attorneys from Los Angeles, Atlanta, Denver, Boston and Tel Aviv, as well as those who normally practice in Manhattan, have all taken advantage of the space, which can accommodate more than 20 attorneys, he said.
The Garden City office, despite its lack of jetsetters, offers proximity to local courts and businesses, and an easier commute for Long Islanders than jetting into Manhattan.
Legal consultant R. Bruce McLean, a partner at Zeughauser Group, called Greenberg’s move an “interesting tactic” to encourage lawyers to return to the office, but added, “The question is, can you be anywhere your lawyers want to live? “
Maybe not everywhere, but several other big firms also offer lawyers a chance to practice high-end law while living in prime vacation spots.
For example, 800-year-old attorney Duane Morris has a small office in Truckee, California, a gold rush-era ski town near Lake Tahoe, driven by specific client needs.
With multiple ski areas including Palisades Tahoe (formerly known as Squaw Valley) and Alpine Meadows as clients, Duane Morris’ catastrophic or fatal injury attorneys—think snowboarder vs. snowmobile—can “get out to the resort in a flash ,” partner John Fagan told me. This allows them to assist in the investigation and speak with resort officials under the auspices of attorney-client privilege.
Fagan, who started as an associate working on a massive wrongful-death lawsuit against Alpine Meadows after an avalanche there killed seven people in 1982, said clients don’t want to pay lawyers to drive four hours from San Francisco to Tahoe for testimony.
In response, Fagan Hancock’s predecessor firm Rothert & Bunshoft, which merged with Duane Morris in 2005, opened the Tahoe office 35 years ago.
“I was happy to jump in” to work there, said Fagan, an avid skier and one of two attorneys plus a paralegal based in the office near Truckee’s east end.
Holland & Hart’s Aspen office goes back even further. It was the first regional outpost of the Denver-based firm, launched in 1965 when Aspen’s development was in its heyday.
While ski industry clients were the original driving force, work now includes land use, real estate development, environment and natural resources, and private client services, both locally and as part of firm-wide teams.
Partner Mark Hamilton is one of eight attorneys and four staff members who work out of Aspen, where the firm has owned its office building on East Main Street for decades.
When Hamilton tells attorneys outside the 400-lawyer Holland & Hart where he is, he said their reaction is often the same: “Gosh, how did you know that?”
It’s not all champagne powder though. “The cost of living in Aspen doesn’t make it a simple calculation, even for a successful attorney,” he said. “It is not for everyone.”
As a bonus, the city of 7,000 people offers plenty of opportunities to network with potential customers. Like the Hamptons, a “disproportionate number” of the rich and powerful “pass through Aspen all the time,” Hamilton noted. “It’s a meeting place for people from all over the world.”
For lawyers who prefer sun to snow, it’s hard to beat Ogletree Deakins’ office in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (a United States territory since 1917).
Partner Charles Engeman told me he “packed up and moved to the Virgin Islands” 30 years ago after quitting his job as an associate at Goodwin Procter in Boston.
He practiced at a local firm for 10 years, then joined the 875-lawyer Ogletree to open a five-lawyer office in St. Thomas, where he said remains the only revenue-based Am Law 200 firm with a local presence . Firm attorneys focus on defending employers, especially those in the travel industry, in labor and employment matters.
Overlooking the brilliant turquoise waters of Long Bay, the office is also a nice recruiting hook, Engeman added, with law students often asking, “Oh, how do I get to this office?”
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