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Law firms on the move in San Diego

UTC, Carmel and Mission Valley large market for legal offices

Law firms, for the most part, continue to congregate around downtown San Diego, but it might not always be San Diego's legal epicenter.

Baker & McKenzie has not only long since left downtown, the firm completely closed its Del Mar Heights offices on March 30 and doesn't plan to return. Two of the firm's remaining partners here — Colin Murray and Chuck Dick — have been relocated to Baker's San Francisco offices.

"Baker & McKenzie already has a group that is interested in their Carmel Valley space. It is called Real Office (an executive suite operator.) They essentially rent out each office individually to small companies," explained Jason Hughes, Hughes Marino president.

Some law firms have expanded out of downtown, while others have closed their offices to move their operations to Del Mar Heights, the University Towne Centre area and Mission Valley.

Work at Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch included a 4-story staircase connecting the top four floors of the downtown high-rise, a 4-story back-lit glass feature wall, rooftop skylight and an open-air contemplation garden. All photos courtesy of Suffolk-Roel Construction

McKenna Long & Aldridge relocated its offices from Symphony Towers into 22,351 square feet in the Sunroad Corporate Center in the Eastgate Mall area in October 2010. McKenna Long has 45 employees here, according to CoStar Group (Nasdaq: CSGP).

The Troutman Sanders law firm, which had also been located downtown, moved into a 17,500-square-foot space in the Torrey Reserve development in the Del Mar Heights area during the middle of last year as well. That firm reportedly has 25 employees here, according to CoStar.

In October of last year, the San Diego law firm Marks, Finch, Thornton & Baird LLP signed a 10-year lease for a 24,111-square-foot space on the seventh floor of the La Jolla Commons Office Tower in UTC.

The 30-lawyer business law firm catering to the construction industry has left the LEED certified Sunroad Centrum Building in Kearny Mesa for the LEED Platinum certified La Jolla Commons Tower in January.

The move leaves Bridgepoint Education (NYSE: BPI) as the sole tenant in Sunroad Centrum.

Tenant improvements at Barrack Rodos & Bacine included new perimeter offices, an open office working area, millwork and new finishes throughout, including carpet, stone, paint and wall covering.

As explained by Linda Quindt, Marks Finch administrator, her firm was actually the first tenant in the first 275,000-square-foot Sunroad Centrum Building, but once Bridgepoint came in about three years ago, the law firm began to feel squeezed. This problem might have not been so acute had the FAA not made Sunroad Enterprises take off the top two floors of the building because of its proximity to Montgomery Field.

When asked what she likes about the La Jolla Commons location, Quindt said it is very convenient.

"Most of our clients are construction companies and they don't work downtown," Quindt said. "It's also easy to get to Orange or Riverside County."

Quindt added that there is sufficient sublease space that her office should be able to expand by one or two attorneys per year.

Other law firms are located in the suburban office markets and are perfectly content to stay there. Such is the case with Kimball, Tirey & St. John, which renewed its lease for 32,050 square feet and 10 years in Hazard Center in Mission Valley in late 2010. That transaction was worth more than $10 million.

Hughes said downtown law firms lease about 2 million square feet — which is still about twice as much as the rest of the county combined.

The UTC market has the second largest concentration of legal space with 400,000 square feet, matched by 400,000 in Carmel Valley and 133,000 square feet in Mission Valley.

The new reception area at Hooper Lundy, which is in the AT&T building in downtown San Diego. High-end finishes include wood paneling and trim, pendant fixtures, a new banquette, wall covering and elaborate stone work.

"There certainly have been some law firms that have left downtown for the suburbs but some of them have returned too," Hughes said, adding that Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney is one such law firm.

Hughes said when law firms leave a space, it can be difficult to refill.

"The determining factor is how you define 'large,'" Hughes said. "Full floor spaces are much easier to re-lease than multiple floor spaces with internal stairwells, etc. The average vacant space sits on the market vacant for more than two years.”

Depending on what is desired, law firm build-outs generally range from about $50 to $90 per square foot. General contractors who specialize in this area include Back’s Construction, Suffolk Roel and Burger Construction among others.

Back’s Construction handled a $2.2 million, 43,000-square-foot job for Best Best & Krieger in the Advanced Equities Plaza Building at 655 West Broadway in downtown San Diego. Howard Sneed Architecture & Design was the project architect.

Suffolk Roel was the general contractor on a 100,000-square-foot, $9.4 million job recently completed for Procopio Cory Hargreaves & Savitch at 525 B Street in core downtown area.

Jack Burger, Burger Construction president, has developed legal spaces for the law firms of Wingert Grebing Brubaker & Juskie, LLP; and Morris, Polich and Purdy, LLP — both in One America Plaza within the past six months.

Burger said One America owner The Irvine Company has taken great care to make sure the spaces were ready before the law firms' arrival.

Burger said unlike many other types of companies that call for more collaborative spaces, law firms are still demanding offices that have the hierarchal corner offices and cubicles that have been prevalent for many decades.

"These law offices still have the front desk out front, they still have libraries, and have physical files," Berger said. "Not much has changed there."

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