Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.
When you work in Biglaw, you are pretty much assured you will have a nice office to go to everyday. Of course, you are also expected to spend the vast majority of your waking hours in that office, particularly as an associate.
My personal Biglaw experience when it came to offices was probably the norm. When I started at Greenberg Traurig, the IP department was located just above some of Bernie Madoff’s offices in the Lipstick Building on Third Avenue in Manhattan. A few years in, we joined the rest of the firm within the MetLife (former Pan Am) Building right over Grand Central. In the summers, and after the partners I worked with relocated more frequently depending on our case load, I would spend time working out of Greenberg’s New Jersey office. While not Manhattan, that office had nice suburban views and was easily accessible off the highway. And when I lateraled to Locke Lord, I got to enjoy a very easy commute from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, and some beautiful views from my office of the Hudson River and New York Harbor.
Biglaw does office space right. In some respects, though, that is changing….
Real estate is such a large cost for firms that many are looking for alternatives to Class A space in the heart of whatever cities they are operating in (especially for non-revenue generating administrative and support personnel). Of course, as owners of a start-up boutique, my partners and I have the luxury of really thinking through what we want to do in terms of office space. As we all know from our personal living arrangements, New York City is not a cheap place to be headquartered. At the same time, now that we don’t have to answer to anybody but ourselves and our clients, we have the ability to get a little more creative about what we want to do space-wise. There are two areas in particular where owning our own business gives us flexibility: (1) deciding how much we want to spend, and (2) “commuting control.” As a veteran of some long commutes, particularly in the summer from the Jersey Shore to Manhattan, I know the importance of the latter. The former speaks for itself, since as we estimate our expenses, our real estate costs look to land in our top three monthly expenses. So we need to get it right.
There are a few things we know for sure. As litigators, we need a physical address of some sort. Since we practice patent litigation, however, most of our cases are not in New York. As a result, we travel often, making our office arrangements a little more flexible than if we were, say, real estate lawyers, who frequently host closings. And what New York City takes away in terms of cost, it gives back in the form of relatively inexpensive, but nice and centrally located, places to hold business meetings. Whether it be restaurants (even for kosher guys like me, there are good options), hotel conference rooms, or bars, there are no lack of options for meeting with people — most of which would be nicer than any space we could currently afford anyway.
As a business practice, I always defer to offering to meet with people where it is convenient for them anyway, obviating much of the need for fancy office space for client meetings at this point. In my experience, the airport situation in New York is a difficult one for visitors, and as a result you often need to be flexible to meet with people passing through town in a part of the city that will make their escape to the airport an easier one. For example, because Locke Lord’s NYC office was way downtown, I would often recommend that visitors fly in through Newark. At the same time, if I knew someone was flying out of LaGuardia or JFK, I would offer to meet with them in East Midtown, so that they would have an easier time getting out of town. As a result, the idea of committing our limited resources at this stage to an office for the purpose of impressing visitors is not really appealing.
Of course, New York City, while pricey, also presents a lot of options for a firm like ours. And price is not the only consideration we have to keep in mind. We know that growth, perhaps even rapid growth, is a real possibility for us. Thankfully, the initial response to our new firm has exceeded even our high expectations. Hopefully that continues, of course. But while the positive attention and opportunities are most welcome, they also reinforce the importance of us not jumping the gun and locking ourselves into a long-term lease that does not offer room for growth. Since we all agree that we do want space in Manhattan, we have had to learn about the commercial real estate market a bit. While Manhattan presents a lot of options for us to consider in terms of neighborhood and office type, commercial leases in the city tend to be in the three-year range. As a start-up, that really does not work, especially since we see the distinct possibility of growth. Of course, we also have the flexibility of deciding not to grow employee-wise if we want to. I for one am not ready to give up that chip just to be able to sign a lease. Not yet, at least.
So what are some of the options we are considering? For one, we have been letting people know that we are looking for month-to-month space on a temporary basis, and we have gotten to see some private offices owned by other businesses as a result. That may be a good way for us to go, at least initially. We have also looked at shared space offerings, those coming with some advantages and drawbacks. Some of the advantages are reasonable costs, nice amenities, the ability to access space in other cities, and classy public spaces and conference rooms for those occasions where we may be hosting visitors. The downsides include very small offices (the office I had at Locke Lord would be considered a “four-person” office at the places we’ve seen) and not a lot of privacy. Of course, as patent lawyers, being around technology start-ups is not a bad thing, since they are potential clients. (On that note, it looks like some Biglaw firms have tried to get in on that act, by rotating lawyers through start-up-friendly shared space facilities.) So we have options, but are trying to be measured in our decision-making process.
The main utility of an office for us is as a central place to meet up and look each other in the eye as we work on building our business. Working at home for these last few weeks has not been a drain on our productivity, so we can afford to be smart about our decision. At the same time, we have already had days where we are running from meeting to meeting in the city where it would have been nice to have an office of our own to use as a base. Ultimately, even though getting away with free rent for a while has been nice, we know it is a temporary situation. For now, we are enjoying the “house hunting,” but know that we will need to make a decision soon. While having to make decisions like this can be hard, I can also assure you that making them for ourselves is priceless.
Please feel free to send comments or questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any topic suggestions or thoughts are most welcome.
Gaston Kroub lives in Brooklyn and is a founding partner of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique. The firm’s practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and related counseling, with a strong focus on patent matters. He can be reached at email@example.com.