SAN FRANCISCO — Gordon & Rees is joining the trend in moving back-office operations out of San Francisco. But unlike big firms that have opened centers in the Midwest and Rust Belt—places like Nashville, Tenn., or Wheeling, W.Va.—it chose a closer destination: Oakland.

Due to climbing real estate prices in San Francisco, the firm will transfer administrative staff and its 20-member environmental and toxic tort practice group from its headquarters in the Financial District to a new office in Oakland. Relocating 130 employees on April 14 will allow the firm to shrink its lease at 275 Battery St. from five floors to three, saving about $1 million over five years.

This announcement comes a month after Sedgwick said it will transition its administrative operations to Kansas City, Mo. In 2011, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman relocated its back-office staff to Nashville. Meanwhile, O’Melveny & Myers outsourced some of its administrative work to a provider in West Virginia, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe opened its operations center in Wheeling about a decade ago.

The Recorder caught up with Mark Stephens, Gordon & Rees’ executive director, to find out why the firm landed on Oakland.

Q: Why did the firm think it was important to keep its operations close to its San Francisco headquarters?

A: Ultimately, if we made one of the big moves, our partners thought we’d lose a lot of people. Not a lot of people would have made that move. There are a lot of people that have worked really hard for our firm, and a lot of our partners thought it was import to keep them in the fold. Could we have saved more? Sure. But a lot of the partners thought we’d lose people that were critical to the success the firm has had.

Q: Did the firm consider Sacramento? Or any options out of state?

A: We looked at all of our options. We looked very extensively in San Francisco and around the BART line. We looked at options that were more Orrick or Sedgwick-like, but our partners chose not to pursue that.

Q: Why does it make sense to move the ETT practice group to Oakland?

A: We were going to move the firm’s administrative teams, but the floor plates at our new place are 25,000 square feet and we only needed 17,000 square feet. When we started talking internally, the head of the group showed interest. He said he had a lot of his lawyers that live over that way. Also, it’s great for us to have some of our lawyers with us. When you have their presence every day, you learn more. It helps us be better at what we do.

Q: Did the firm let the attorneys choose which office they’d like to work from?

A: No, once it was decided that the practice group was going, they all were asked to work from that office. At the same time, with the practice of law the way it is today, with the mobile computing environment, people can do their work from anywhere. We could happily host certain folks in Oakland on certain days and vice versa with San Francisco.

Q: How did the employees feel about the move?

A: After we explained the rationale, our employees realized that our partners came to a logical conclusion to move to Oakland.

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