Courtney New, an immigration associate at Nixon Peabody, describes her sometime office at the Cambridge Innovation Center as a double-wide phone booth. "Think of The Jetsons. It’s like a futuristic pod," adds her colleague, Nixon associate Mahmood Firouzbakht. "It’s perfectly comfortable for one person, but it is a little different from what we’re used to," New says.
In late April, Nixon Peabody became the latest of several law firms to secure a workstation in the CIC, an incubator in Ken­dall Square that houses nearly 600 start-up companies. The CIC is also home to attorneys from Foley Hoag, McCarter & English, Edwards Wildman Palmer, and Massachusetts firm Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton.
Occupying office space within or in close proximity to start-up hubs is a growing trend among law firms that are trying to position themselves as the go-to ­adviser for the next tech or life sciences giant. In Chicago, Foley & Lardner helped launch start-up incubator Catapult Chicago in 2012 by donating excess office space and helping it gain nonprofit status. Dentons is sole outside counsel to Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, a start-up incubator in Manhattan. In San Francisco, longtime Silicon Valley stalwart Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati opened a second office in the city’s SoMa (South of the Market) district, a hotbed for start-ups.
By working together in close quarters, relationships between law firms and start-ups are able to unfold naturally over time, says Geoff Mamlet, cofounder of the CIC. "It’s not ‘Hey, could you do this for me and then we’re done.’ These are a different kind of relationship," he says.
Nixon Peabody is planning to offer start-ups in the CIC free legal service during set office hours and present a series of seminars on the legal issues that young companies often face, in hopes of becoming trusted advisers to the companies over time, says New.
McCarter & English’s nearly three-year presence in the center has resulted in several new clients, according to firm counsel Benjamin Hron, who declined to name specific companies. McCarter’s presence in the CIC has "done wonders for increasing our name recognition in the tech community," says Hron. But representing start-ups has a downside. They are, by nature, full of risk, so getting paid isn’t always a given. But in an atmosphere where innovation reigns, risk seems to be an afterthought. "You go into the CIC space, and the level of excitement and enthusiasm is so high that you can’t help but want to be a part of it," Firouzbakht says.