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Practice Innovations - Managing in a changing legal environment
Gray Rule
October 2011 | VOLUME 12, NUMBER 4spacer
Gray Rule
LEEDing Law Firms: The Business Case for Sustainability
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IN THIS ISSUE:
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»The Role of the Alternative Fee Manager
»LEEDing Law Firms: The Business Case for Sustainability
»A New Approach to Leadership: How Women Are Influencing Leadership Values
»Improving Associate Morale Through Career Coaching
»Outsourcing, Offshoring, and Right Sourcing for the Future
»Untangling the Tangled World of Government Compliance
»Book Review: Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything
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William Scarbrough, Chief Operating Officer, Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, Grand Rapids, MI
LEEDing Law Firms: The Business Case for Sustainability
The recent economic downturn and softening of the commercial real estate market have offered law firms ....

The recent economic downturn and softening of the commercial real estate market have offered law firms, like other businesses, a unique opportunity to optimize space and reduce occupancy expenses. Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, a 90-lawyer Michigan law firm based in Grand Rapids, with offices in Ann Arbor and Traverse City, entered into new lease arrangements in all three office locations during 2010, reducing the firm's space footprint overall and rent per square foot in each city, though the number of Smith Haughey lawyers did not change during this time. In Grand Rapids, the firm will move its 52 lawyers this fall from 37,000 square feet into 27,000 square feet, achieving a very efficient 519 square feet per attorney.

A great deal has changed in the 30 years the firm has occupied its current space. Technology has transformed law practice and reduced the need for office space. The firm has fewer support staff relative to the number of attorneys. Library books and paper files have been replaced with electronic equivalents to a great degree. A generational and legal industry cultural shift toward uniform attorney office sizes and hoteling for part-time and visiting attorneys have further reduced space requirements. Smith Haughey also used the opportunity offered by the economy to move its sustainability effort forward. The cities of Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Traverse City all have strong environmental cultures. For its size and population, Grand Rapids has the largest concentration of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings in the country.

Smith Haughey's 10-lawyer Ann Arbor office occupies 5,000 square feet in the historic Schwaben Building in the center of town, just off Main Street (west of the University of Michigan's central campus). The loft-style office space was built out relatively recently, but a lease extension allowed the firm to reduce rent expense, while adding three attorney offices to the existing footprint, using a tenant improvement allowance provided by the landlord. The modifications were too minor to warrant LEED certification, but the building and office configuration were laid out in an efficient (500 square feet per attorney) and environmentally sensitive manner in the first place. Attorney, staff, and clients love the location and work environment. Because parking can be a bit of a challenge in downtown Ann Arbor, attorneys, staff, and visitors are encouraged to walk and bike, which fits into the firm's wellness program.

Ann Arbor Office, 213 S. Ashley Street
Ann Arbor Office, 213 S. Ashley Street
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Smith Haughey's Traverse City office moved from State Street to Front Street, the main street downtown that runs parallel to Grand Traverse Bay. The 28-lawyer Traverse City office occupies about 18,000 square feet in a brand-new building with a little room to expand, in what has been the firm's fastest growing office in recent years. The building is mixed use, with retail on the ground level (Grand Traverse Pie Company is right next door!), Smith Haughey's reception and conference center on the corner of the ground level, attorney and staff work space on the second floor, and condominiums above. The firm adopted an open office design with large interior glass windows. Smith Haughey attorneys, staff, and clients have sweeping views of Grand Traverse Bay. The building features a geothermal heating/cooling system that pumps water out of the adjacent Boardman River, circulates it through radiant tubes in the floor, and returns it to the river. Energy costs are stunningly low. Smith Haughey's build-out was completed to LEED standards, and the firm is likely to achieve Silver or even Gold status.

Traverse City Office, 101 N. Park Street
Traverse City Office, 101 N. Park Street

The LEED commercial interior standards were adopted by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The set of standards has become the de facto bar for measuring building energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. A summary checklist is included below, but much more detailed information may be found on the USGBC's web site, http://www.usgbc.org.

The standards cover everything from site selection, including development density, public transportation access, and bicycle storage; to water efficiency; to energy and atmosphere, including lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), and appliances; to materials and resources, including length of lease, building reuse, construction waste management, materials reuse, and recycled content; to indoor environmental quality, including outdoor air delivery, low-emitting materials, indoor pollutant control, thermal comfort, and daylight/views; to innovation and design; to other unique, regional factors. The LEED standards are applied on behalf of the owner or tenant by LEED Accredited Professionals (APs), who receive their credentials through the USGBC, and are generally architects, construction managers, or both.

LEED commercial interiors standards checklist
LEED Commercial Interiors Standards Checklist
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Because LEED buildings and commercial interiors are becoming increasingly common and almost expected in some markets, many of the practices and materials required for LEED points are becoming widely available and less expensive. The main cost of LEED certification is the "commissioning" process, where the LEED APs verify and document all of the materials and processes used in the project and calculate the number of points achieved in each category. Out of a possible 110 points for commercial interiors, it is necessary to achieve 40-49 for LEED certification, 50-59 for Silver, 60-79 for Gold, and 80-110 for Platinum status.

Smith Haughey's Grand Rapids office is moving into the city's Flat Iron Building (a smaller version of its New York City namesake, but with a similar triangular shape and prominent corner location) on Monroe Center, in the historic center of downtown. The building is more than 150 years old, one of the oldest commercial structures in Grand Rapids, and on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to LEED certification (the firm is seeking Silver or Gold status), the firm's partners on the project, Locus Development, Design+ Architects, and Wolverine Construction, must remain sensitive to historic preservation requirements. Even in Grand Rapids with its many LEED buildings, the combination of a new, efficient, environmentally sensitive build-out in a very old, historic building is unusual.

Grand Rapids Office, 100 Monroe Center, NW
Grand Rapids Office, 100 Monroe Center, NW
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Smith Haughey is pleased to make a strong commitment to downtown Grand Rapids, historic preservation, and sustainability, while reducing expenses at the same time. The office build-out will combine contemporary, modern design, furnishings, and lighting, with the exposed brick and timbers of the old building. The resulting loft-style work space will be a major change from the more conventional office space the firm occupies currently in Grand Rapids. The attorneys and staff, particularly the young people, are very excited about the change. The pictures accompanying this article show the work in progress.

Grand Rapids Office, Interior
Grand Rapids Office, Interior
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Smith Haughey did not pause long before deciding to pursue LEED certification in both of its major office build-outs. All of the elements of the LEED checklist are in keeping with the firm's sustainability policy and strategic plan. Many of the energy- and resource-related elements of the checklist will save the firm significant money in utility and other expenses over the life of the lease. LEED certification provides marketing benefits with clients and prospective recruits, particularly in the cities where the firm operates. Many of the design features of LEED buildings, such as maximizing natural light and outside air in the space and using low-emitting materials, are popular with attorneys and staff. All of these benefits were deemed to be worth the relatively modest additional cost of LEED commissioning. Smith Haughey is one of the first Michigan law firms to make such a strong commitment to both historic preservation and environmental sustainability. It is nice to be a LEEDer!

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