When Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen and Loewy—like several of its Am Law 200 counterparts—was left scrambling for alternate office space after Hurricane Sandy–related flooding forced the closure of its downtown Manhattan headquarters, the immigration-focused firm took refuge in a somewhat unlikely location: the onetime home of bankrupt law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf.
Seeking a place to house a New York operation that numbers 80 lawyers and 350 total employees until its 7 Hanover Square office reopens, Fragomen management inspected the 10th floor of the former Dewey space at 1301 Avenue of the Americas last Monday and had relocated there by Friday. (News of Fragomen’s move was first reported by Crain’s New York Business).
According to Fragomen partner and executive committee member Michael Patrick, the firm considered four locations before deciding to commit to the former Dewey space. To help move negotiations along and finalize the short-term lease before another displaced business swept in, “we played the crisis card,” Patrick says.
“The coffee was still warm,” he adds, describing how quickly the firm settled into the space, which Dewey occupied until filing for bankruptcy in May and which some of its employees continued to inhabit until November 2 while helping to wind down the defunct firm’s operations. Other floors of Dewey’s former space will soon serve as Chadbourne & Parke’s New York home.
Patrick says Fragomen has committed to pay the building’s landlord, Commerzbank, at least 60 days rent. While the firm has the option to stay in the space—still outfitted with some of Dewey’s furniture and fixtures—until the end of April, he says, “we’ve got every confidence we’ll be back (downtown) before then.”
The firm’s lawyers and staffers are no doubt happy to hear that, given that the temporary quarters are half the size of the Hanover Square space (62,000 square feet compared to 117,000). For now, people are sharing offices and finding other ways to squeeze in to the more modest accommodations. Phones and computers—some leased, some purchased—arrived Wednesday, Patrick says, and Fragomen’s normal phone numbers have begun routing to the new office (Voicemail, however, won’t be active for another week, leaving secretaries busier than usual taking messages.)
Though electronic files were available throughout the storm and its aftermath thanks to a recent transition to a cloud-based server, Patrick says retrieving documents from the shuttered downtown office was impossible until last Friday. The delay was the result of the building’s landlord claiming that entering the property for even a brief period represented a safety hazard. After some “huffing and puffing,” Patrick says, the landlord relented. “We needed to pick up passports, we needed to get papers for our clients,” he says.
Because of a rate abatement clause in the firm’s lease, Patrick says Fragomen doesn’t have to pay rent at 7 Hanover while the building is closed. Coupled with recoveries expected from business disruption insurance, he says, the entire ordeal shouldn’t cost much more than lost sleep.
So far, Patrick adds, the tighter squeeze hasn’t caused many problems: “Out of 350, I’ve only had one person come to me who said, ‘I don’t think I have enough space to work.’ All I could do is smile. I said, ‘I’m sure you can manage it.’ “
As The Am Law Daily has previously reported, the hurricane affected many firms with offices in lower Manhattan. Like Fragomen, some are still making do in temporary space. Stroock & Stroock & Lavan signed a short-term sublease to take over an unused portion of Kirkland & Ellis’s midtown offices until its own office at 180 Maiden Lane reopens, Crain’s reported last week.
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, whose headquarters is located at One New York Plaza, expects to be back in the building “in the near future,” a spokeswoman told The Am Law Daily said via email. In the meantime, they’ve taken temporary space on Park Avenue. Cahill Gordon & Reindel, at 80 Pine Street, has had lawyers working remotely and from midtown space it rents at 1271 Avenue of the Americas, according to a note posted on its website (Representatives for the firm could not be reached Wednesday).
Reuters reported that the downtown office of Gordon & Rees also remained closed this week. New York managing partner Mercedes Colwin, who said the firm could be back in its space as soon as November 30, noted that the storm surge was so strong in the building’s vicinity that it caused the drowning death of a homeless person in the lobby.
On Monday, Sullivan & Cromwell returned to its main office at 125 Broad Street, a building in which the firm owns a 60 percent stake. Managing partner Joseph Shenker sent a mass email about the opening, crediting “the extraordinary efforts of our dedicated lawyers and administrative staff worldwide” and noting that even in the absence of a functioning office, the firm closed deals and elected new partners.