Miller & Chevalier has inked a 15-year lease to be the anchor tenant in a new development two blocks north of the White House.
The Washington-based firm, which has about 90 attorneys, will move from its office at 655 15th Street N.W. to 900 16th Street N.W. in December 2015. Miller & Chevalier plans to take 84,000 square feet in the top six floors of a new nine-story building. The site's current building, which houses the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, will be demolished.
Adam Feinberg, a member of Miller & Chevalier's executive committee, said the firm considered a number of real estate options including remaining at its existing offices. Ultimately, he said the firm was able to take less space at "essentially the same cost." In an interview with Legal Times, he declined to comment about how much the firm is paying per square foot for various parts of the building.
The firm expects to move to the new office in December 2015, around the same time that its current lease expires. The firm started considering its real estate options about two years ago, Feinberg said.
"The [new] building's floor plates have more windows and are better suited to a law firm working in an efficient way," Feinberg said in the interview. He said the firm's existing building has "a very large and odd floor plate with an atrium in the middle that is oddly shaped. We have a lot of dead hallway space and internal space that are not utilized."
Second to salaries, real estate is the biggest expense for law firms. These days, firms don’t need as much space as they once did. Law firms, for example, are moving away from extensive libraries of legal books. The digital storage of records has freed up additional space.
With respect to growth, Feinberg said the firm is comfortable with its standing as a boutique firm and is not looking to significantly boost its ranks in the coming years.
"We do have plans for growth, but I would describe that as moderate growth," Feinberg said. "We have about 100 lawyers, and I don't foresee growing into a 1,000-attorney law firm."
Thomas Fulcher, Jr., executive vice president and co-regional manager at the real estate firm Studley, said the Miller & Chevalier deal aligns with similar leases Washington firms recently executed.
Fulcher, for instance, compared the Miller & Chevalier deal to one that Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman signed in January for 105,000 square feet at 1200 17th Street. In both deals, law firms are moving into small, more efficient spaces.
"This is another repudiation of a large floorplate building," Fulcher said. "This is really representative of the trend we're seeing."
Arnold & Porter signed a 20-year lease in January for 375,000 square feet at a site formerly occupied by National Public Radio. Last year, in October, Covington & Burling inked a 20-year lease at CityCenterDC northwest of the Chinatown neighborhood. McDermott Will & Emery moved into its new digs on Capitol Hill last October.
In a recent Q&A with Legal Times, Pillsbury’s Washington managing partner, Christine Kearns, said the firm’s new space is designed to accommodate 200 lawyers—about 30 more attorneys than the current headcount.
"We took space for more lawyers than we currently have because we think that is the way the D.C. office will be going, but we were able to do that by taking substantially less square footage," Kearns said in September. "That is a statement about how you can be more efficient than when you were designing a floor plate for law firm in the 1980's."