Law Firms Find It Better To Move Than Renovate
May 24, 2010
By Amanda Becker

Lured by deals on commercial leases and incentives offered by landlords, several Washington law firms are opting to upgrade to new but often smaller spaces in recently built or renovated buildings rather than rework the office space they have sometimes occupied for decades. ...

... "I think what's happening with the law firms in particular is that a lot of these moves are happening from spaces that were built out a long time ago," said Thomas M. Fulcher Jr., co-branch manager of tenant advisory firm Studley's Washington office. "It's 'Can I live through a big renovation here?' or 'I can move over the course of a weekend.' " Hunton & Williams decided that when its lease on 1900 K St. NW expired next year, it would be time to move to a building that is configured differently than the space it has occupied for the past 14 years. Office Managing Partner Andrea Bear Field said the firm's new office, which will be in the mixed-use Square 54 project at 2200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, will be more suited to how the firm has changed by designating less space for libraries, files and secretarial support.  ...

... Fulcher said that firms are realizing that the interior architecture built 20 years ago, which often averages 800 to 900 square feet per attorney, is costly and makes little logistical sense. Spaces in the buildings law firms are currently leasing is often configured to provide about 600 square feet per employee. ...

... "They build it out in a way that anticipates that happening; it's just one of the thing landlords are doing to be flexible as they get tenants to sign deals," Fulcher said.

Cushman & Wakefield broker Scott Hoffman the flurry of activity is the result of the completion of "pent-up" deals, but he expects to see more large law firms, many of which have leases ending within the next five years, opt to move instead of re-signing leases on current space.

"For a long time, law firms weren't relocating, and renewals were more probable," Hoffman said. "But now construction costs are so low that it makes sense once again to relocate . . . the overall activity is increasing and there is slightly more velocity in the marketplace."

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