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A one-size office will soon fit all attorneys at Philadelphia-based Post & Schell, which has signed a 15-year lease to move in to new office space in the city at 4 Penn Center on 16th & JFK. The firm is putting its wallet ahead of lawyers’ egos at the new location by having the same size office for all of its attorneys, firm management said. Post & Schell will establish its new quarters in October 2003, after the firm has moved out of its current Philadelphia office at the 1800 JFK building. Post & Schell CEO Brian Peters said he wanted to find a space with a more efficient floor plan than the 1800 JFK building, home to the firm since 1986. With its lease expiring next fall, the firm hired a real estate company to assess strategy about whether to renew or find new space. It submitted a request for proposals from several major buildings six months ago, and, Peters said, the firm was sought after in a very aggressive fashion. Peters said among the other buildings that submitted proposals was the United Plaza building, which recently signed Duane Morris to a 15-year lease. But the landlord at 4 Penn Center, Leggett McCall, presented the firm with the most attractive package. A key factor in the firm’s thinking was Post & Schell’s desire to have universal offices for its lawyers — each lawyer will have a uniform 150-square-foot office. The firm currently has three different-sized offices for partners and one size for associates. “Lease expenses are the second highest cost a firm has,” Peters said. “Other than egocentric reasons, there’s no reason to have different-sized offices. My office is 230 square feet. That’s a phenomenal waste of space and overhead. Is this the message that you want to send to clients?” Peters said he hired an architectural firm last year to construct a mock office at 4 Penn Center and had partners review it before the entire partnership voted to approve the concept of universal offices. Peters believes Post & Schell is the only Philadelphia firm to have universal offices. While the move will only give the firm 10,000 additional square feet of space for its 110 Philadelphia lawyers, Peters said it will be a much more efficient use. At 1800 JFK, the firm has 70,000 square feet spread over seven floors, while the 4 Penn Center site has 80,000 square feet spread over only three floors (13 to 15). The larger floor space will give the firm more room at the core of each floor, enabling a more efficient placement of non-legal support staff and ensuring that all lawyers receive window offices. Peters said 4 Penn, which received major renovations two years ago, has outstanding heating, ventilation, elevators and technology systems. The new offices will also feature work rooms for paralegals, war rooms for big cases and a central conference center adjoining the reception area on the 13th floor. Peters said the firm did not look at so-called trophy buildings such as Liberty Place or the yet-to-be constructed Willard Rouse high-rise at 17th & JFK, which is still in the market for some anchor tenants. “The way things are today, most clients never walk in to a law firm’s offices,” Peters said. “4 Penn is an ‘A’ building but it’s not a trophy building. It will still be a great place to work, and I think clients would rather us not spend their money on a trophy building so we can impress people.” Though he declined to offer exact numbers, Peters said the rent at 4 Penn will be cheaper than at 1800 JFK. The firm, however, invested in a real estate consultant and architectural firm and has been forking out money for planning for the past two years. “You’re going to have collateral costs if you are going to be aggressive in your approach in the marketplace,” Peters said. “But I think it will be worth it because we found a really good space, and the entire financial package is great for the firm.” Post & Schell is the second large Philadelphia firm this month to sign a 15-year lease in a lower-profile high-rise. Duane Morris will be moving out of Liberty Place next year in favor of the United Plaza building across the street. And like Peters, Duane Morris chairman Sheldon Bonovitz said that while the space differential was not substantial — 222,000 at United Plaza compared with 215,000 at One Liberty — the square footage per lawyer was much more efficient at United Plaza. But Duane Morris will not be implementing universal offices for lawyers. No large firm is known to be exploring such an idea. According to Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg & Ellers real estate partner Carl Primavera, it would be tough to sell rainmaking partners on such an egalitarian approach to carving up office space. Even so, he credits Peters and Bonovitz for thinking with their wallets instead of their egos. “I was pleasantly surprised that Sheldon Bonovitz would consider moving in to a building that some might consider a step backwards,” Primavera said. “But when you look at it, it’s a smart idea. Business deals are going to be made on reality and not perception. And law firms are going to be smart and make sure the economics work. “In the last generation of moves, everyone wanted to be on the right side of town in the most distinguished space. But that was then and this is now. And law firms understand that a lease is a 10- to 20-year commitment. And because you can’t guarantee extreme income for that period of time, I think firms want to set up a cushion through their [lower] overhead.” Another senior real estate partner in town, though, said he did not expect universal offices to become a trend, but acknowledged that moving into lower-profile buildings has recently become a popular strategy for law firms. But universal offices would be a tough sell for egocentric and practical reasons. “Senior people have always commanded larger offices, and junior associates have always been content with smaller offices,” said the veteran lawyer, who asked not to be identified. “Someone with a $1 million practice thinks he needs to have a bigger office. These are the same people who drive a Mercedes but wouldn’t be caught dead in a Toyota. Are you going to tell me that the Mercedes is doing that much more for them than the Toyota? “But it’s not all about ego. Sometimes you need room for two or more guests and you either don’t want to use the conference room or someone else is using it. And if you are a rainmaker, then you might have three or four lawyers in your office working on a big case or deal. You need to spread papers out … a 10-foot-by-15-foot space just won’t meet those needs.” Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll real estate department chairman Michael Sklaroff said Morgan Lewis created the trend of moving in to lower-profile space three years ago when it left One Logan Square behind for a vacant building on 17th & Market. While both Drinker Biddle & Reath and Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley moved in to One Logan that same year, other firms like Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, Pepper Hamilton, Cozen O’Connor and Klehr Harrison all decided to stay in their current location or move in to a lower-profile building. “I think the key decision for firms is not so much how much space is available around town but whether or not buildings have enough space to accommodate them and whether or not the floor plans are an efficient use of space,” Sklaroff said. “In the old days, it was important for law firms to present themselves well to clients. That’s still important but less so. With firms having a national and regional presence and all of the electronic hook-ups available, clients visit offices less frequently. We are in the Mellon Bank Center [considered a trophy building], and because our profile is directed at the city of Philadelphia, we think it’s important to be able to welcome civic meetings and other major events at our offices. Plus, we have access to four major streets and the train station.” With nine of the 10 largest law firms in town now locked into long-term leases, the only major tenant available to high-rise landlords is Dechert — whose lease at the Bell Atlantic Tower expires in 2005.

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