Law on the Fly
Commuting between offices can pay off, these lawyers say
Posted Nov 1, 2007 2:30 PM CDT
By Jill Schachner Chanen
Phoenix lawyer Booker Evans never thought much about the value of his admission to the Nevada bar until he moved in 1985 from a Las Vegas office and went into private practice in a different state.
At the time, Evans’ dual licensure and multifaceted criminal and civil litigation practices were an anomaly, which his employer encouraged him to leverage. So Evans began periodically flying to Las Vegas to keep his hand in that city’s legal market. But without a formal office to call his own in both locations, Evans found it hard to get any real traction.
When he later joined another firm with offices in both cities, everything changed. Evans now spends his days commuting between the Phoenix and Las Vegas offices of Greenberg Traurig, and the shareholder is racking up significant amounts of new business.
“I do it because of the business that I am able to generate and spin off to other lawyers in both offices,” says Evans, who estimates his commuting brings in well over a quarter-million dollars of business for the firm.
GROWING AT THE BRANCHES
As law firms branch out across the country, lawyers find commuting between cities is not only viable but also a good method of building and burnishing their practices. These lawyers’ experiences also fly in the face of technology: They have found that a virtual presence is no substitute for a real one.
When Greenberg Traurig first opened its Las Vegas office, Evans says, it was devoted almost entirely to intellectual property law. His presence there has generated enough business that the firm has hired a pool of younger litigation associates to deal with the day-to-day matters, allowing him to spend his time more strategically.
Though flying between cities on any given day is not unheard of for Evans, he typically spends only seven to nine days a month in Las Vegas.
Like Evans, San Diego lawyer Mitchell Lathrop has become somewhat systematic in his commute between his California and New York offices at Duane Morris. When he flies from San Diego, Lathrop goes to Newark, N.J., cabs into his office in New York City, then has dinner and goes to bed in order to acclimate to the time change. When he leaves New York, he takes an early evening flight west in order to arrive in California in time for dinner and bed. “A lot of people say they get so tired doing it,” Lathrop says. “But it’s like anything else; you get used to doing it.”
Lathrop, of counsel at Duane Morris, has commuted for 30 years between the coasts because it allows him to maintain two disparate law practices. In California, his practice focuses on environmental insurance coverage; in New York, it’s centered on arbitration.
Lathrop says his specialized knowledge in each area justifies the commute. “If you have a narrow specialty, it sometimes is more cost-effective to have someone who is an expert in that specialty because it eliminates the learning curve, and some clients feel that it is well worth the minimal extra expense,” he says.
City-hopping lawyers say the cost of their presence in each city is a carefully negotiated dance. Since large firms tend to have enough extra offices, the overhead of keeping separate private offices is minimal.
And the cost of travel can sometimes be borne by the client. “The only time it is a client expense is if I were traveling exclusively to one location for them,” says Winston & Strawn partner Michael Elkin, who maintains offices in Los Angeles and New York City.
Elkin, an entertainment lawyer who specializes in new media and copyright issues, says his New York office serves as a needed bridge between business in Los Angeles and Europe. The commute “is well worth it if you want to develop and nurture a bicoastal practice,” he says. “If you don’t, it won’t be as robust.”