Global megafirms and high-powered boutiques get most of the attention around here because they dominate the legal landscape with eye-popping profits and newsworthy representations. But in the wake of COVID, there’s a palpable shift in the market. Lawyers, especially younger lawyers, saw firm productivity go through the roof while everyone worked remotely and they’re wondering why they should ever return to the commuting rat race. For their part, most firms are adopting hybrid work models to give attorneys the opportunity to maintain the flexibility enjoyed during COVID without sacrificing the training and business development benefits of an office.
Not everyone is happy with these overtures.
Which is why this article out of Long Island raises an interesting possibility: will COVID spark a renaissance for suburban law firms?
Long Island, however, has been attracting increased interest as remote-work patterns emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve seen a couple of firms open Long Island offices because of that,” [law firm consultant Lisa] Smith said. “Firms are more willing to open an office where [lawyers] live.”
Back in January we covered Greenberg Traurig’s decision to open a couple of offices in Long Island as part of a work-near-home strategy. Newsday notes that Syracuse-based Bond, Schoeneck & King added 23 lawyers and offices in Melville and West Palm Beach through a merger. As firms look to hybrid models, it supercharges the incentive to find an office that’s not a two-hour commute away.
But this cuts the other way too:
“As soon as the pandemic hit, there was no need for suburban lawyers to go into the city,” Rosella said. Some of the law firms only required their attorneys to come to the office twice a week, an attractive proposition for Long Islanders.
“The city firms were now taking lawyers from the suburbs,” he said. “Those firms were seeking our lawyers.”
Which is driving these suburban firms to expand their office locations to keep hubs near where the lawyers are to fend off Biglaw poaching. It’s an effort bolstered by the rising price of legal counsel, something that could force clients to expand their roster of lawyers and grow more comfortable sending work to more reasonably priced alternatives.
No one’s going to drive Biglaw out of business. Well, other than Dewey. But we might be on the cusp of a real suburban renaissance where smaller and mid-sized firms have the opportunity to stretch their legs into new locations and take advantage of some less-than-gruntled Biglaw lawyers eyeing a shorter commute.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.