Epstein Becker Green is closing its Atlanta office, which had suffered a number of partner departures over the past 2½ years.
The firm’s Atlanta managing shareholder, Ken Menendez, said the board of directors decided to close the 14-lawyer office and that he expected it would wind down its affairs by the beginning of August.
EBG’s chairman of the board, Doug Hastings, and vice chairman, Mark Lutes, declined to speak to the Daily Report or to respond to emails. In a statement from the firm’s public relations manager, EBG said it was "significantly reducing its presence in Atlanta" because it is focusing on its health care and labor and employment practices.
Lutes told Thomson Reuters on Tuesday that the firm was closing the Atlanta office because it was losing money. The statement from the firm does not address finances. Instead it says the Atlanta office "grew outside of the firm’s core areas of expertise, with a heavy concentration in real estate, and a predominantly regional client base which was out of sync with the firm’s strategic direction."
EBG, a national firm which started out as a health care and labor and employment boutique, has downsized considerably since the recession hit.
The firm has lost one-third of its lawyers since 2008. Its current head count is 258 lawyers, according to the most recent census by The American Lawyer (a Daily Report affiliate)—down from 390 lawyers at the beginning of 2008.
EBG closed its Miami office at the end of 2010, after six labor and employment lawyers plus staff decamped for Duane Morris.
That followed the closure of its Dallas office in 2008, leaving it with a Houston office in Texas. The Houston office is down to three lawyers, after a 14-lawyer group left for Cozen O’Connor two years ago.
The firm will have 10 offices after the Atlanta office closes. The local office was EBG’s fourth-largest for many years. Its lawyers are concentrated in New York and Washington, accounting for two-thirds of lawyer head count, followed by a 28-lawyer Newark, N.J., office and 18-lawyer Los Angeles office.
The firm has outposts with 10 or fewer lawyers in Chicago, San Francisco, Stamford, Conn., and Houston.
EBG has also retrenched to its core practices in health care and labor and employment law after expanding into real estate, litigation and corporate law.
The firm’s chairman, Hastings, told the Daily Report at the beginning of 2011 that the firm’s five core practices were health care, labor and employment, real estate, corporate and litigation—and that all were represented in the Atlanta office.
Hastings said at the time that the firm was committed to its local office, calling Atlanta "the hub of a very large region that fits our network."
Since the recession hit in 2008, EBG’s revenue has dropped $56 million—a 27.5 percent revenue decline over the last five years.
The firm reported 2012 revenue of $147.5 million, an 8.1 percent drop from 2011, and profit per partner of $605,000, a 1.6 percent decline, according to the magazine.
Hastings told The American Lawyer in a recent story that the firm in 2009 narrowed its focus to health care and labor and employment law and attributed the revenue reduction to the firm’s move away from general corporate, litigation and real estate work.
Like the rest of the firm, EBG’s Atlanta office saw its ranks depleted. The branch has struggled since losing several key partners in 2010 and the start of 2011.
"It’s been a challenging two and a half years," said Menendez, who is one of the office’s founding partners. "I thought that if we had enough time we could turn things around, but we just ran out of time."
Nine health care lawyers, including six shareholders, left the office in 2010, and then the office’s managing shareholder, Maxine Hicks, took her real estate practice, which included five other lawyers, to DLA Piper at the beginning of 2011.
Hicks joined EBG in 2001, a year after the firm opened its Atlanta office by acquiring Vincent, Berg, Stalzer & Menendez. EBG acquired her 13-lawyer firm, Cofer, Beauchamp, Stradley & Hicks, which gave the Atlanta office 24 lawyers. She became the office’s managing shareholder in 2003. Hicks was also the firm’s national real estate practice leader and a member of its board of directors.
A remaining real estate partner, Aasia Mustakeem, left a month later, in February 2011, with an associate for Smith, Gambrell & Russell.
At that point, the office had about 20 lawyers, but it was paying rent for 2½ floors of space—enough for 60 lawyers—in Buckhead’s Resurgens Plaza at 945 E. Paces Ferry Road.
EBG had expanded its office space footprint from one floor to 2½ during the mid-2000s to accommodate its rapidly expanding local head count, which then numbered about 50 lawyers.
EBG had already started lease renegotiations with its landlord, Behringer Harvard, before Hicks’ departure, in November 2010, offering to extend its lease if it could reduce the space, Menendez told the Daily Report last year.
After a new landlord, CWCapital Asset Management, stepped in, the firm in 2012 was able to renegotiate the lease and resolve a suit Behringer Harvard had filed against the firm during the lease negotiations.
The firm signed a new 10-year lease that superseded its old lease, set to expire in 2014, in exchange for shrinking its footprint to a single floor of space.
That means EBG will still have nine years left on the Atlanta lease after closing the office.