The business case for the law practice in paradise

(Reuters) – Virtually every major law firm can boast of having offices in cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington, DC

But what about places off the beaten path, particularly glamorous ones like the Hamptons, Aspen or St. Thomas?

As attorneys hesitantly return to the office in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a perennial real estate question from law firms gets a new twist: Where does it make most sense for large firms to maintain a physical presence domestically?

The pandemic-tested lawyers can work effectively and efficiently from almost anywhere. But consultants tell me that doesn’t mean firms looking to reduce overhead should rush to shut down their far-flung outposts.

If anything, the opposite.

“I find that companies today are more flexible with small offices and really focus on the talent,” said Lisa Smith, a director at Fairfax Associates.

Think Greenberg Sad.

Greenberg Traurig’s office in Bridgehampton, New York. Photo credit James Poster.

In early 2022, the 2,500-strong law firm opened two new offices on Long Island, New York — one in Bridgehampton, famed as a playground for the distinguished and powerful, and one in Garden City (ok, not exactly paradise).

Executive Chairman Richard Rosenbaum told me the new outposts have helped the firm attract and retain attorneys “who no longer want to commute to Manhattan.”

Additionally, the Bridgehampton office offers proximity to a client base of corporate executives, investment bankers and others who are “increasingly spending significant amounts of time in the Hamptons due to the pandemic,” he said. “So-called small markets can be very valuable for clients and ultimately valuable for (legal) talent and the law firm.”

As a marketing bonus, the new office is located in the heart of Bridgehampton on the Montauk Highway and features a prominent Greenberg Traurig sign. “We’ve had emails from literally all over the world from people holding the sign saying ‘What, are you everywhere?’ seen,” said Rosenbaum.

(So…a bit like a high-class version of the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ freeway billboards?)

Long Island co-general manager Brian Doyle said the office has also been a hit with colleagues visiting the Hamptons. Lawyers from Los Angeles, Atlanta, Denver, Boston and Tel Aviv, as well as those who typically work in Manhattan, have all taken advantage of the space, which seats more than 20 attorneys, he said.

The Garden City office, while lacking in jet-setters, offers proximity to local courts and shops, as well as an easier commute for Long Islanders than lugging to Manhattan.

Attorney R. Bruce McLean, a partner at Zeughauser Group, called Greenberg’s move an “interesting tactic” to encourage attorneys to return to the firm, but added, “One question is, can you be anywhere your attorneys are?” want to live?”

Perhaps not everywhere, but several other major law firms also offer attorneys the opportunity to practice high-end law while living in prime vacation destinations.

For example, 800-strong attorney Duane Morris has a small office in Truckee, California, a Gold Rush-era ski resort near Lake Tahoe prompted by specific client needs.

With multiple ski resorts including Palisades Tahoe (formerly known as Squaw Valley) and Alpine Meadows as clients, in the event of a catastrophic or fatal injury — think a snowboarder or a snow groomer — Duane Morris’ attorneys “can get to the resort in no time.” ,” partner John Fagan told me. This allows them to assist in the investigation and speak with resort staff under the protection of attorney-client privilege.

Fagan, who got his start as an associate working on a massive wrongful death lawsuit against Alpine Meadows after seven people were killed there by an avalanche in 1982, said clients have resisted paying attorneys to drive four hours from San Francisco to go to Tahoe to testify.

In response, Fagan’s predecessor, Hancock Rothert & Bunshoft, which merged with Duane Morris in 2005, opened the Tahoe office 35 years ago.

“I was happy to volunteer” to work there, said Fagan, an avid skier and one of two attorneys and a paralegal based at the office near the east edge of Truckee.

Holland & Hart’s Aspen office dates back even further. It was the Denver-based company’s first regional outpost, established in 1965 when Aspen development was in its prime.

While ski industry clients were the initial driving force, work now encompasses land use, real estate development, environmental and natural resources, and private customer services, both locally and as part of company-wide teams.

Partner Mark Hamilton is one of eight attorneys and four associates based out of Aspen, where the firm has had its East Main Street offices for decades.

When Hamilton tells attorneys outside of 400 Lawyer Holland & Hart where he’s based, he says their reaction is often the same: “Gosh, how did you find that out?”

It’s not all champagne powder, however. “The cost of living in Aspen doesn’t make it an easy calculation, even for a successful attorney,” he said. “It’s not for everyone.”

As a bonus, the city of 7,000 offers numerous opportunities to meet with potential customers. Like the Hamptons, “a disproportionate number” of the rich and powerful come through Aspen all the time, Hamilton noted. “It’s a meeting point for people from all over the world.”

For attorneys who prefer sun to snow, Ogletree Deakins’ office in St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands (a United States territory since 1917) is hard to beat.

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 law firm for 10 years and then joined 875 Attorneys Ogletree to open a five-attorney firm in St. Thomas, where he said it remains the only Am Law 200 firm based on revenue with a local presence. Office lawyers focus on defending employers, particularly in the tourism industry, in labor and employment matters.

Overlooking Long Bay’s brilliant turquoise waters, 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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Jenna Greene

Thomson Reuters

Jenna Greene writes about the legal business and culture, taking a comprehensive look at industry trends, the faces behind the cases and whimsical drama in the courtroom. A longtime chronicler of the legal industry and high profile litigation, she is based in Northern California. Reach Greene at [email protected]


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