Room to grow Featured

11:57am EDT August 26, 2003
Robert Blackham, managing partner at Roetzel & Andress LPA's Cleveland office, realized the firm needed just a bit more room when 42 of his attorneys were vying for only 30 offices.

"I had four associates sharing one conference room," Blackham says. "We had people from this office stationed in Akron."

Roetzel doubled its space, adding 20,000 square feet to its existing 20,000 square feet by leasing a contiguous floor in the One Cleveland Center building downtown.

"We realized that at the rate of our growth, we were going to be double the size we were two years ago in another year at the most," Blackham says. "We went from 18 (attorneys) in July 2001, and we're going to be 50 in September."

Blackham says growth was driven by the Cleveland office's existing practices, including intellectual property, corporate law, real estate, labor and employment, medical malpractice, estate planning and tax services.

With the expansion, Blackham not only wanted to alleviate the firm's space crunch, but to improve the design and conference rooms on the two floors. In the main boardroom, Roetzel installed a 62-inch plasma video screen for partner meetings and deal closings, and another smaller conference center for video depositions.

"We're not a pretentious law firm in terms of the size of our office," Blackham says. "But we do want our clients to feel proud and comfortable when they're here."

Roetzel's rapid growth over the last two years made the decision to expand simple for Blackham, but he cautions other decision-makers against rushing into a larger lease before your company is prepared.

"We didn't want to make a move until we were dead certain that we had more than enough people to service that overhead," Blackham says. "Make sure you've got enough productivity to service that debt."

Here are other tips to consider before renewing your lease or negotiating a new agreement.

Representation

Michael Haas, real estate attorney at Roetzel's Cleveland office, recommends companies use a tenant representative when searching for new office space. Most of the major brokerage houses (CB Richard Ellis, Grubb & Ellis, Collier's) offer tenant rep services.

"Despite the fact that we have a significant working knowledge of commercial leasing and the legal terms involved, the brokers provide a significant value in helping you negotiate the lease," Haas says. "The reason is they have a better sense of the market than we do as lawyers because that's all they're doing is office leasing."

Measure

Most landlords use the Building Owners and Managers Association standard for measuring office space, but are not required to. You need to know how the landlord measured the square footage because it's going to have an impact on your overall cost, Haas says.

Sometimes landlords will include common areas such as a portion of the building lobby, or even the elevators, in the measurement.

Right of First Offer

If you're expecting more growth, you might want to secure more space in your building than you need immediately. With a "Right of First Offer" clause negotiated into your lease, the landlord is obligated to offer that space to you before it's leased to someone else.

"It's all comes down to a negotiation," Haas says. "How much does the landlord want you there? How much does the tenant want to be there? I can assure you, if it's a significant tenant, the landlord will have some options available for them." How to reach: Roetzel & Andress LLP, (216) 623-0150 or www.ralaw.com