Howard Ecker gazes at a model of Chicago.

Howard Ecker gazes at a model of Chicago.

Today, I’m pleased to share a guest post that could just as easily have run in Arizona Attorney Magazine. The topic and its coverage may be of great assistance to lawyers examining their office space options.

The author is Howard Ecker. Here is some brief background on Howard (a more complete bio is at the end of this post):

“Howard Ecker founded Howard Ecker + Company in 1975 as the first real estate company in Chicago devoted exclusively to representing tenants.  From working on one of the original leases in the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco in the early 1970’s to currently representing national accounting firm BDO USA, Howard’s 40+ year career has included many significant projects.”

Some of what he discusses is covered in the current Arizona Attorney in an article by James Robinson. I hope you find both of them useful as you plan your 2014. Here’s Howard:

THE LEGAL PROFESSION is not what it used to be. Our father’s law office is becoming unrecognizable; with the legal profession rapidly changing. It has become much easier to be strategic and efficient with office spaces.  With changes that have come about due to new financial models, emerging technology, and changing commuting habits, office worth is no longer easily predictable.

Howard Ecker, of Howard Ecker + Company is a national commercial tenant representation company and brokerage firm

Howard Ecker

How does a firm know when to grow, how to grow, and what tenets to keep in mind in these rapidly changing times?

It is a topic that I know very well due to my 40+ years in the commercial real estate business. Large and small law firms alike regularly contact us asking for advice on how to create office space that represents their unique culture.

Perhaps it’s wiser to think about what NOT to do, or the biggest mistakes law firms tend to make when expanding their office space. If you make it a point to avoid these, you will come out with a stronger, more strategic and successful business than you would have without it.

Mistake No. 1: Overspending

Firms often want to move into the newest “Class A” building and look to build out spectacular space with high end finishes and built-ins.  You need to keep in mind that often your clients are not willing to pay increased hourly billing rates / fees to cover the overhead for your accoutrements of wealth.  The result…a less profitable firm.  Also remember, the higher the rent and more expensive the build-out, the larger security deposit / guarantee the landlord will be looking for.  While it’s important that your space reflects the culture and brand of the firm, you need to balance that with the underlying financial impact to ensure the firm can support any increased operating or capital expense.  Additionally, you never want a client to say your rates are too high based on how you are living.

Mistake No. 2:  Not Considering Who Your Target Clients Are

For instance, if you are trying to expand your tech company practice, traditional office space in large office towers may not reflect the values of your future clients. Build spaces that attract your target clients, and particularly in locations where you want to attract top leads. If your goal is to attract technology corporations, you must build where they are in space where they feel comfortable.  Make it easy for you to market your services by building amenities that they can utilize, such as conference rooms with great connectivity and internal spaces that can host tech industry mixers or startup competitions.

Mistake No. 3: Treating Office Space as a Job Reward

Do not use the corner office or larger private offices as a symbolic reward for “making partner” if it causes the firm to use office space less effectively and efficiently.  Most of our clients are embracing the “one size fits all” mentality.  Building this way allows you to be much more flexible with the office space.

Mistake No. 4: Not Being Flexible for Future Growth

Firms often do not grow like other businesses.  Growth can often be more rapid when bringing in a new group of partners or practice group.  The same can happen in reverse, leaving you with significant excess space.  Pushing to have as much lease flexibility as you can with layers of options to expand, renew, contract and terminate is so important and, as we often advise our clients, worth paying a premium for.  That said, if flexibility is key, it is important to let landlords know at the start of negotiations.  That way you can quickly resolve if it will be an issue to get such rights and move on if the building cannot accommodate.

Mistake No. 5:  Failing To Consider Work-Life Amenities

Your staff, attorneys and partners work long hours.  It can help with both recruiting and retaining employees to locate your office near other businesses and services that enhance the work-life balance of your employees. For instance, fitness centers, abundant restaurant options, proximity to transportation, and even things like “doggie day care” can be big pluses for your employees when working long hours.

About The Expert

Howard Ecker founded Howard Ecker + Company in 1975 as the first real estate company in Chicago devoted exclusively to representing tenants.  From working on one of the original leases in the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco in the early 1970’s to currently representing national accounting firm BDO USA, Howard’s 40+ year career has included many significant projects.  Howard works with business leaders to align office location thinking with the long term fiscal and cultural needs of their business, connecting the worth of the company to its brand, culture and environment.  Howard is a member of the Board of Directors for Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.  He graduated from Tulane University in 1966 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Russian History and attended DePaul Law School.

About Howard Ecker + Company

Howard Ecker + Company is a national commercial tenant representation company and brokerage firm that represents the commercial real estate interests of tenants throughout the United States.  With offices in Chicago, New York, Denver, and Miami, Howard Ecker + Company helps tenants locate, negotiate and evaluate all possibilities in their search for office space.  Learn more about the firm here.

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