Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean is a midsize law firm doing the green thing — inside and out.
Not only does the 60-attorney firm take extraordinary measures — including the installation of waterless toilets — to conserve and sustain resources at its Oakland, Calif., office, but it also has steadily built a practice that advises clients on doing the same. The law firm’s progressive position has brought recognition from its community and business for its attorneys.
Wendel Rosen’s roots are in real estate, but the 100-year-old law firm has grown to include litigation, business law, environmental law, bankruptcy and estate planning. The firm has not escaped the recession, but managing partner Daniel Rapaport is relieved that revenues have remained flat during the past 12 months. “I’d be lying to you to say things are great,” Rapaport said. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it.” He declined to provide specific revenue amounts.
What has kept the firm’s gears turning during the economic slowdown is a diverse litigation practice and the ability to undercut prices, across all practices, that larger firms charge.
“I’m looking at my friends in San Francisco across the bay, 12 minutes away,” Rapaport said. “Our rates are highly competitive.” Fees range from $235 to $525 per hour — the latter fee charged by two senior attorneys.
With the plunge in commercial real estate lending and construction, the firm has shifted its focus to loan modification, landlord-tenant disputes and default work, Rapaport said. It laid off two attorneys because of a slump in work but has not reduced salaries during the recession. “We’ve been really very careful,” he said.
Wendel Rosen was the first law firm to become certified as a green firm by the Bay Area Green Business Program. In 2003, the firm obtained the certification, which measures how well a building or community performs in saving energy, water efficiency, improved indoor environmental quality and stewardship of resources.
Getting certified wasn’t a marketing ploy said Rapaport, who has served as managing partner for about 18 months. He has practiced at the firm for 19 years. “When I first heard about it, I said, ‘That sounds good. Now go bill some hours.’ “
But the result has boosted the firm’s profile and given it credibility in counseling clients whose business involves green initiatives. For example, last year the firm helped client Foothill Partners Inc. in a deal for the first LEED-certified shopping center in California.
William C. Acevado, who heads Wendel Rosen’s green business practice group, said that the practice has grown by 48% during the past year. The group brings in about 5% of the firm’s overall revenues, but he expects that percentage to grow. The green business group focuses on legal services pertaining to building design and construction, alternative media, green media and marketing, clean technology, and natural and organic foods. Clients include 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide Inc., Del Monte Foods Co., Clif Bar & Co. and the Port of Oakland.
Wendel Rosen has the technical strengths and the “personality” that fits well with David Alexander’s team of seven attorneys at Port of Oakland, where he is general counsel. The port owns and operates the Oakland International Airport, the Oakland Maritime Seaport, which includes 19 miles of coastline, and commercial real estate in the area.
“With a firm of over 300 lawyers, you have to adjust to their culture more than they’re adjusting to yours,” Alexander said.
Wendel Rosen is one of about 50 firms that the port uses. Alexander himself worked at the firm from 1991 to 1996. But he said that the level of service he gets and the absence of conflicts — which can arise with bigger firms — are the reasons he consistently uses Wendel Rosen.
The green business group is a logical extension of Wendel Rosen’s own commitment to sustainability. It has reduced its use of paper, water and energy, and has implemented recycling and composting. The law firm has installed waterless urinals, which save about 40,000 gallons of water each year.
“I can testify that there’s no sanitary issue, but the first time I walked up to it, I was like, ‘hmm,’ ” Rapaport said.
The law firm also is a member of 1% for the Planet, a nonprofit group whose business members donate 1% of revenue in cash to environmental groups around the world.
Leigh Jones is associate editor of The National Law Journal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.