What it Takes to Move a Law Firm, Part I

Pillsbury, in Washington, DC, and DLA Piper, in Chicago, are both moving into new spaces after 25 years at their respective locations. Real estate experts Robert Aldrich, a Managing Director at Cassidy Turley, and Andre Bellerjeau, the Global Practice Leader of Workplace for Little, spoke with key players behind both transactions about their decisions to move and how they are managing the changes that moving entails.
This is part one of a two part series. Next week, we’ll hear about the programming process and how the firms are bracing for the future of work.
For more on the unique real estate and design challenges that law firms face, check out this Work Design Now video, featuring McDermott Will & Emery’s DC office.
1200 Seventeenth in Washington, DC, the site of Pillsbury's future office / Rendering courtesy of Akridge
1200 Seventeenth in DC, the site of Pillsbury’s future offices / Rendering by ZGF Architects LLP, courtesy of Akridge

The decision to relocate isn’t easy – especially for a law firm. Moving to a new environment dramatically alters the status quo, affecting everything from attorney commute times to the ability to attract and retain top talent. In the process, a firm must weigh economics, efficiency, and aesthetics, and ultimately, the relationship of all three to how the firm serves clients.

To better understand this challenge, we spoke with Christine Kearns, the managing partner of Pillsbury’s Washington, DC office and the primary manager for their move, as well as Jay Epstien, a partner at DLA Piper. Epstien is also based in DC, but he is the head advisor to the facility side of the firm and is the advisor to the committee that oversees the Chicago move.

Pillsbury is slated to move into 1200 Seventeenth – a building developed by Akridge, located in downtown DC’s Golden Triangle – in late-2014. They will move up to 200 attorneys into 105,000 square feet of space, driving an efficiency factor of 525 square feet per attorney. This cuts their present number in half – right now, they occupy 170,000 square feet with 170 lawyers.

In early-2017, DLA Piper will move up to 300 attorneys into 175,000 square feet of River Point, an office tower under development by Hines in downtown Chicago’s West Loop. Like Pillsbury, they will nearly double their space efficiency ­– presently, they occupy 211,000 square feet with 210 attorneys.

Before DLA Piper decided to move, they dug deep to see what it would take to stay in their current space. Their landlord worked hard to show how the existing building could continue to suit the firm.

Said Epstien, “The landlord’s proposals reflected how well he listened to us and how he was going to brand the building through significant design modifications. [Those] efforts got the firm thinking about the benefits of staying, including very aggressive cost efficiencies.”

They concluded, however, that in order to accommodate 300 attorneys in their existing building, they would need to lease up to 20 percent more space. With that projected increase in real estate, they knew that moving and starting with a clean slate would make more sense.

But Epstien maintains that decision makers and partners must consider all options and not pre-judge conditions.

Said Epstien, “Staying put can be cost effective, and it’s a data point that must be evaluated, despite interests in simply moving to a new space because the existing space is older in years.”

And indeed, those years that make an office older are often the things that keep employees from wanting to move. When Kearns accepted the Managing Partner position at Pillsbury, she was warned that the pending lease expiration would be her “most interesting project.”

Said Kearns, “We have been in our current space a long time and many people have spent their entire careers at this office.”

To help ease the transition, Kearns and her internal committee looked to the developer, broker, and architect for their perspectives on how to familiarize employees with the coming changes.

After a vigorous RFP process, they are also taking advice on efficiency standards in the new space. When Pillsbury first leased their existing office, they created a fitness center and cafeteria, both of which ate up too much of the pie.

Said Kearns, “Paying the rent and running these services is an enormous effort. We’ve decided to get out of the ‘real estate business’ and we’re working [now] to get the exact right amount of space.”

Both Kearns and Epstien emphasized that the biggest hurdle still remains: the physical move. But they know now that it’s worth it. In the end, both firms will have upgraded aesthetics, increased utilization, and cut down on costs, helping them to better serve clients in more attractive and more efficient environments.

This is part one of a two part series. Next week, we’ll hear about the programming process and how the firms are bracing for the future of work.

For more on the unique real estate and design challenges that law firms face, check out this Work Design Now video, featuring McDermott Will & Emery’s DC office.

 

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