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Many Washington-area law firms are experiencing rapid growth. As part of this growth, firms are faced with all sorts of real estate decisions related to the influx of new staff, associates, and partners. Frequently, a firm’s initial response is to consider a major move to another location. The ramifications of such a decision are significant. Moves are disruptive, time-consuming, and costly, and large blocks of office space in desirable locations are difficult to find. Moreover, an office location can be a meaningful part of a firm’s history and identity. Before making the difficult decision to move, firms should consider other ways they can make the most of their existing space. BEFORE MAKING THE MOVE 1. Conduct an architectural reprogramming of the entire space. An architectural reprogramming is an exercise to determine if a firm’s total space is being properly used. If it isn’t, a reprogramming would contemplate a reconfiguration of the space based on updated and more-current requirements. A reprogramming should also analyze the age of the building and its systems to evaluate structural efficiency (which includes factors such as column spacing) and energy efficiency (the building’s HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems). If the structure and its systems are obsolete, tenants should make an effort to negotiate upgrades with the landlord. As part of a reprogramming, consider: • Are office sizes right? Some may be bigger than necessary. In the 1980s, in many large cities, the average law firm office measured 300 square feet for partners, 150 square feet for associates. Today it is 225 square feet per partner and 120 to 150 square feet per associate. • Can space be used with some flexibiliy? Some New York firms place two associates in a single partner-sized office. This could also work in Washington, where the typical partner-to-associate ratio is close to 1:1 (as opposed to 1:2 elsewhere). • What are current support staff ratios? Historically, the ratio of secretaries or assistants to lawyers has been 1:2 or even 1:1. Today it is closer to 1:3 or 1:4. With fewer secretaries, there could be more available square footage for other uses. • Should excess secretary space be converted into paralegal space or other uses? • Should interior (non-windowed) offices be created for associates? After an architectural reprogramming, a firm might find that although it seemed to be bursting at the seams in a 300,000-square-foot space, it can actually fit comfortably in 280,000 square feet. If this is the case, consider renovating and reconfiguring the existing premises. This will be disruptive, but less so than a move, and in the long run the efficiency gains may be worth the trouble. 2. Seek greater efficiencies of parts of the existing space. There are numerous areas within a firm’s office space that can be reconfigured to increase efficiency and, hence, create more space. For example: • Consider shrinking or eliminating law libraries. The average law library has shrunk 50 percent in size since the 1980s. • Instead of hard-copy law books, consider using those that are online or on CD-ROM to reduce storage space. • Take advantage of the newest designs in high-density filing and shelving devices for the storage of case records. These include vertical filing cabinets, instead of horizontal credenzas, and movable compact shelving systems that can be designed to store the same amount of material in much less space. • Use more-efficient and less space-consuming furniture. Older secretary/support staff stations are bolted-down structures made of wood and granite. Today’s versions are lighter and modular, so that they can be moved and reconfigured. They can also be depreciated sooner as furniture. • Create a shared records storage area rather than multiple “private storage” rooms. With a shared storage arrangement, it is easier to manage, dispose of, and destroy old records and reduce liability potential to the firm from old cases. • Do the “white glove test”: If a file box has been sitting long enough to have gotten dusty, it’s probably fine to throw it away, return it to the client, or move it off-site. • Optimally, make use of electronic means of storing records and case materials, such as scanning paper documents into a database. 3. Seek additional locations. When a firm reaches the 300,000-square-foot-size threshold, it is approaching a size too large for some downtown office buildings. Washington, D.C., is a prime example because the city’s height restrictions limit the building size and zoning envelope. At this point, firms must seriously consider dividing their primary offices. Firms might consider: • Looking for adjacent space. For example, Patton Boggs expanded into 100,000 square feet across the street from its existing 200,000-square-foot facility. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr leased three adjacent buildings and made them into one facility. • Opening a satellite office in the suburbs. • Using existing satellite offices as overflow space. Patton Boggs used its Tysons Corner location for this purpose until its D.C. expansion was up and running. • Building a new facility to your firm’s specifications. This option, however, should be the final one. 4. Move support functions and document storage off-site. Depending on a firm’s culture, some staff functions and document storage facilities can be successfully moved off-site. Here are a few considerations: • Relocate information technology, accounting, document reproduction and copying, mailroom, and litigation centers for big cases to a different facility — preferably one with less-expensive rent. • Drowning in paper? Move paper storage off-site. Up to 15 percent of law firm space is used for paper storage. With office rents in Washington surpassing $50 per square foot, it costs approximately $100 per year to store a two-foot-long box of paper records. Moving storage off-site and converting the space into offices turns revenue-draining space into revenue-producing space. • Records retention is often better handled by third-party vendors; consider services such as Iron Mountain. When a box is bar coded and indexed in a storage facility, it is much easier to find and return to an attorney than if it is lost under a pile of other boxes in a remote file room everyone has forgotten about. Some documents need to be kept for seven years, by law. With a more organized storage system, it’s easier to find certain files and dispose of them when this period expires. Even if your firm exhausts all of these options — using existing space in new ways, adding more space elsewhere, and outsourcing certain functions or moving them off-site — there still may be no other alternative than moving the entire firm to another location or constructing new space to accommodate growth. But before firms make that big move, they should carefully consider their space needs. It’s possible they may be able to find new solutions to cope with the pressures of expansion. Art Santry is managing director of tenant representation and Dale Martin is senior vice president for project management at the Washington, D.C., office of the Trammell Crow Co., a real estate services provider based in Dallas.

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