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Will BigLaw Impress With In-Office Wine Bars and Extravagant Perks?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 15, 2015 12:59 PM

White-linen luncheons catered in the conference room. A bottle of 2012 Chateauneuf du Pape tucked away next to the photocopier. Poker night and NFL viewings. Forget Pimp My Ride, real hustlers looking to impress are tricking out their law firms.

The Wall Street Journal reports that BigLaw firms are increasingly adopting opulent perks in an attempt to grab the attention (and dollars) of deep-pocketed clients. But will clients be impressed?

BigLaw's Lavish Spread

Lawyers at Mayer Brown don't bother taking clients out to lunch anymore. Instead, they "pull out a tablecloth, grab some flatware and sit down to eat in one of the firm's softly lit conference rooms," the Journal writes. If that doesn't impress, the firm has a "living room-like lounge" and a receptionist's desk that turns into a bar, so no one has to drink alone in their office. Consider these lifestyle law firms, when your lifestyle is akin to Marie Antoinette's.

Mayer Brown isn't the only firm making its offices extra swanky. Skadden gives personal assistants to visiting clients. Kaye Scholer has downsized office size, the Journal reports, but increased perks, throwing in-office dinner parties and poker nights. Paul Hastings is developing an impressive board room it wants its clients to use for their own board meetings, while Cozen O'Connor is throwing cocktail parties and charity events. Are BigLaw night clubs next?

Making Clients Sticky

The goal, of course, is to attract and retain big clients. These perks, Cozen's Michael Heller says, make client relationships "stickier," the idea being that a client who comes by the firm for the occasional board meeting or receptionist-made martini will be likely to keep the firm around for its less-gratuitous legal services.

Fancy firms aren't cheap, however. Real-estate costs, on average, took up 7.3 percent of firm revenue last year, while corporate firms only increased income by 6 percent. However, much of that increase went to the most elite firms, making the competition for top clients even steeper.

Likely to Impress?

There's plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the efficacy of BigLaw opulence, however. Will a client really be impressed by that latte (artfully-made in house and served on a white marble table in the firm's lounge) when he knows his billings paid for it? What's the billing rate for a receptionist-barista-mixologist anyway?

Not all BigLaw firms are following the trend, either. Andrew Glincher, managing partner and CEO at Nixon Peabody, says "law-firm space shouldn't be a trophy to a law firm's pedigree."

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