A couple of Indianapolis’ largest law firms are giving up space in two downtown office towers, exemplifying how the legal profession is shifting the way in which it conducts business.
Ice Miller LLP and Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP have re-signed long-term leases to retain their large downtown presences. But Ice Miller gave up two of its nine floors at OneAmerica Tower, on the northwest corner of Illinois and Ohio streets. Bingham gave up one of its six floors at Market Tower, 10 W. Market St.
Ice Miller, the city’s third-largest firm based on number of attorneys, also moved some back-office operations across Illinois Street to Capital Center to further reduce expenses and provide roomier working conditions.
Capital Center’s rent of $20.50 per square foot is cheaper than OneAmerica Tower’s $24.50, saving Ice Miller a hefty six-figure sum per year, said Phil Bayt, one of the managing partners.
Ice Miller will retain 130,000 square feet at OneAmerica Tower; Bingham will keep 78,000 square feet at Market Tower.
“We’ve been on a quest to make sure that we examine every dollar of cost that we incur to understand how we can deliver our services more cheaply,” Bayt said.
The economic downturn forced scores of law firms to become more flexible with billing rates to retain clients and remain competitive. Reducing space is an obvious way to cut costs, as rent is among firms' largest expenses.
For Ice Miller and Bingham, whose long-term leases were set to expire, this was their first opportunity since the downturn to explore the cost savings.
“Just because you’re a senior partner who’s been around 30 years, you probably don’t need that office if you’re only coming in once a week,” said Julie Armstrong, executive director of the Indianapolis Bar Association.
Another huge relic: the law library. Ice Miller once had the largest in the state outside the law schools, Bayt said. Most tomes and documents have been converted to electronic volumes, making the rows of binders and shelves nearly obsolete.
“[Reducing space] is definitely a trend simply because technology has enhanced our ability to do more with less,” said Mary Solada, Bingham’s managing partner. "We're essentially right-sizing. We don't need as much library space."
Bingham Greenebaum Doll, the city’s fifth-largest firm, formed in late 2011 from the merger of Bingham McHale LLP with Louisville-based Greenebaum Doll & McDonald. Bingham’s decision to reduce its space would have occurred regardless of the marriage, she said.
Both Ice Miller and Bingham plan to remodel their existing space to make it even more efficient.
Ice Miller's Bayt said his firm will invest $2 million in system-wide technology upgrades to improve virtual office capabilities.
Ice Miller is eliminating its lunch room, for instance, and converting it to multi-purpose space that will serve as a coffee shop during the day and a reception area in the evening.
“There are simply more lawyers than there is legal business nationwide,” Bayt said. “You’ve got to differentiate yourself on quality and efficiency. If you don’t, you can’t compete for legal business.”
Several local law firms have merged or folded in recent years as the legal market becomes more competitive. The latest, Stewart & Irwin P.C., closed late last month.
Founded in 1922, the general practice firm had 22 lawyers as of April and ranked as the city’s 21st-largest firm, according to IBJ research.
Its demise has left a one-floor vacancy within Two Market Square at 251 E. Ohio St.