Are Small Offices the Way to Go for Big Law?

The pandemic demonstrated that lawyers can work effectively from just about anywhere, but now the question is: Where does it make most sense for large firms to retain (or establish) a physical presence?

It seems several firms have decided that the answer to that question is, it makes sense to set up small offices wherever need and potential revenue are highest.

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In early 2022, the 2,500-lawyer Fairfax Associates opened two new offices on Long Island, New York: one in Bridgehampton — a popular spot for many of the rich and powerful — and one in Garden City.

According to Fairfax executive chairman Richard Rosenbaum, the new offices have helped the firm attract and retain lawyers “who no longer want to commute” into Manhattan.

“I find that firms are more flexible on small offices these days with the focus really on the talent,” added Lisa Smith, a principal at Fairfax.

The office in Bridgehampton also provides the firm with proximity to corporate principals, investment bankers, and other clients who “because of the pandemic are increasingly spending a lot of time in the Hamptons,” Rosenbaum said. "So-called small markets can be very valuable to clients and ultimately valuable to (legal) talent and the firm."

Additionally, the Bridgehampton office, which can accommodate 20, is a popular alternative working space for firm lawyers visiting the Hamptons.

The office in Garden City, while not in quite as picturesque a location, allows proximity to local courts and businesses and a less grueling commute for Long Islanders who would otherwise have to make their way into Manhattan to get to the office.

Meanwhile, prompted by specific client needs, 800-lawyer Duane Morris has a small office in Truckee, California, a ski town near Lake Tahoe. The firm counts multiple ski resorts as clients, and the fact that there is an office nearby means its lawyers can “get out to the resort at a moment’s notice” in the event of a catastrophic or fatal injury, according to partner John Fagan. This allows them to both assist with investigations and talk to resort employees under attorney-client privilege.

And the 875-lawyer Ogletree Deakins has a 5-lawyer office in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it is the only Am Law 200 firm based on revenue with a presence. The office’s lawyers primarily focus on defending employers, especially those in the tourism industry, in labor and employment matters.

With the move to increasingly remote work arrangements, it seems likely that this trend of opening small offices in high-return (and highly attractive) locations will only continue into the future.