August 16, 2022

Square Feet: East Side Law Firms Go West, as Far as Eighth Ave.

But Wilk Auslander, which was founded in 1987 and has 45 lawyers and 25 staff members, was not simply looking for more square footage. Across the East Side and along Park Avenue, in fact, space was vacant and ready to lease.

Robert Reichman, a partner, said the firm’s real estate puzzle involved numerous missing pieces, not least of all a floor plan that could allow private offices to wrap around all four walls.

“Our biggest challenge was not square footage at all, but just having sufficient perimeter offices — or offices all along the window lines of the building,” Mr. Reichman said. “We’re all lawyers here, and because of confidentiality issues and working conditions we try to give them all their own offices. And on the East Side, we just couldn’t find that.”

In April, Wilk Auslander signed a lease at 1515 Broadway, between 44th and 45th Streets, and in doing so will follow in the footsteps of many other practices — small, large, white-shoe and blue-collar — that have recently migrated from the East Side of Manhattan to newer, more cost-efficient offices on the West Side.

Since the beginning of last year, more than a dozen firms have crossed Fifth Avenue — Manhattan’s vertical axis — with some establishing roots as far west as Eighth Avenue, brokers said.

Last year, space occupied by law firms west of Fifth Avenue grew by 3.1 million square feet, from 7.2 million feet in 2009 to 10.3 million feet in 2010, according to numbers provided by Cushman Wakefield. Most of that growth reflected deals inked along Sixth Avenue, data shows.

Along with Zukerman Gore Brandeis Crossman, a firm that in April signed a deal to move from 875 Third Avenue to an 11,000-square-foot space at 11 Times Square, a handful of other large practices in Manhattan have made similar shifts.

Most significant, perhaps, is Morrison Foerster, which last week signaled that it had signed on as the 180,000-square-foot anchor of Boston Properties’ unbuilt tower at 250 West 55th Street.

But Zukerman Gore was not the first law firm to consider 11 Times Square, nor was Morrison Foerster the first to peruse plans for 250 West 55th Street.

Three years ago, Proskauer Rose, among the largest firms in New York, explored space at both buildings before sealing a 400,00-square-foot deal in early 2010 at 11 Times Square, the $1.2 billion tower that topped out last year.

Gibson Dunn Crutcher also briefly considered signing on as an anchor tenant at 250 West 55th Street before choosing, instead, to renew its lease and expand by 70,000 square feet at the Met Life Building at 200 Park.

Stephen Siegel, the chairman of CB Richard Ellis‘s global brokerage, said Proskauer Rose was feeling pressure to move from its longtime space at 1585 Broadway, where Morgan Stanley has headquarters.

“They had a landlord who didn’t really want them in the building because they were in a headquarters,” said Mr. Siegel, who represented 11 Times Square, “and you really don’t want someone else right in the middle of your headquarters building.”

The reasons for the shift are varied, but the West Side’s growing stock of buildings with updated technology, higher operating efficiencies and, in some cases, environmentally friendly features are all major draws, brokers say.

“There clearly has been a growing trend in the law firm community of moving farther west,” said Robert Goodman, an executive managing director at Colliers International and a member of Holland Knight‘s law practice group. The firm recently moved to 31 West 52nd Street.

“It’s very evident, when you look at some of these major law firms that have recently signed transactions, that the West Side properties seem to be doing a better job of accommodating both their current and future needs,” Mr. Goodman said.

Lawyers and brokers say the westward movement isn’t new — the trend began as early as 1989 when Cravath, Swaine Moore signed on as anchor tenants at Worldwide Plaza. But only in the last year have law practices resumed discussions about major real estate decisions after the economic crash, some lawyers said.

“This isn’t a new phenomenon, but relative to the activity now versus, say, 2005 or 2006, I think it’s fairly comparable,” said Gus Field, an executive vice president at Cushman Wakefield. “There are a lot of law firms in the market, and I think each of them has some very strong drivers that they’re seeing solutions for.”

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