PhillyDeals: Cozen O'Connor prepares for a move - to One Liberty Place

Vincent McGuinness calls Cozen C'Connor "committed" to the city. Low rent was a factor, too.
Vincent McGuinness calls Cozen C'Connor "committed" to the city. Low rent was a factor, too. (JOSEPH N. DiSTEFANO / Staff)
Posted: August 22, 2012

The law firm Cozen O'Connor grew up in the Philadelphia Stock Exchange building at 1900 Market St., where its lawyers have slowly replaced over the last 31 years the bright-jacketed options traders who used to dominate both the basement trading floor (now owned by Nasdaq) and the upstairs office suites.

Last month, the firm, which has grown to 173 "shareholder" partners, 376 additional lawyers, and 620 support staff, announced it will move to rebuilt space at One Liberty Place when its lease expires in three years.

Was there any doubt Cozen would stay in town?

"Many of the shareholders live in the suburbs. That was part of our debate: Can we move out? Can we have free parking and avoid the city wage tax? Can we have a shorter commute and run out to the kids' baseball games?" said Vincent McGuinness, the Cozen managing partner who headed the committee in charge of the move.

But, McGuinness said, Cozen does a lot of business with public agencies as well as big companies; the city is convenient to commuters; it's a buyer's market, with Center City rents still mostly below $30 a square foot, like they were 20 years ago, and "we are committed to the city."

"If the city crumbles, the suburbs will crumble, too."

Plus, younger lawyers prefer the city, and older lawyers whose children are grown are moving downtown. So, "at the end of the day, the decision to stay in the city was easy," McGuinness said. The firm says it wasn't offered any financial incentives for staying in town, unlike law firm Dechert L.L.P., brokerage Janney Montgomery Scott, and other big white-collar employers that have shifted their downtown offices in recent years.

With the city's low office rents attracting little new construction, it was tough finding 200,000 square feet in Philadelphia, said McGuinness - unlike in Cozen's branch cities, including Chicago, where emptied high-rises like the Sears Tower form "a ghost town" of empty space "and you can get big blocks, small blocks, wherever you want."

Companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Microsoft have cut their Philadelphia-area office space as more employees work from home, armed with smartphones and other modern gadgets.

Yet Cozen is taking nearly as much space as it's moving out of, and it has an option for more, expecting growth. "In the law, professional development really requires interpersonal, regular interfacing," said McGuinness, sitting in an atrium-view conference room that was once the late developer Bill Rouse's office. "Maybe I'm old-school. But there is a huge value in face-to-face; it helps develop a skill set, in terms of how to communicate with clients, with juries, when you are arguing a matter with a judge."

It's not the same space exactly - partner offices will be maybe 10 percent smaller, conference rooms are being expanded to include couches and informal settings, and there will be more common-room "touchdown spaces" and coffee shops like what McGuinness saw on a design visit to Latham & Watkins L.L.P. in Los Angeles. The library is being cut by three-quarters, as books are thrown out. (Yet paper files aren't going away; older lawyers still prefer them.)

What's next for the Stock Exchange building? The block-long structure, with its ceiling-to-basement atrium, has attracted apartment-conversion interest. Developer Ron Caplan is turning the former AAA Mid-Atlantic building nearby into apartments, too. With projects like the Murano condos and a planned Brandywine Realty Trust-Independence Blue Cross apartment tower linking the adjoining JFK Boulevard apartment district with residential Rittenhouse Square to the south, glass-walled Market Street west of City Hall is less an office district, more a high-end mixed neighborhood, changing like the older South Broad Street stone canyon before it.

It's a big change, to McGuinness: "Back in 1981, this area was a little daring," with Market still lined with neon-lit porn shops and the out-of-town bus terminal. The neighborhood's nicer now, and Cozen is moving just a little farther downtown.

Here to work

One in every seven Philadelphia-area small-business owners was born in India, Mexico, Korea or some other foreign country - even though immigrants are a little less than one-tenth of the local population, the Fiscal Policy Institute said in a U.S. Census data-based report circulated by the Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative last week.

The numbers show that immigrants are an even bigger proportion of small-business owners nationally, accounting for 900,000 of the nation's 4.9 million owners, almost one-fifth of the total, even though immigrants are just one-eighth of the U.S. population.

Immigrants also are more likely to work than Americans generally - though they're only about 13 percent of the population, they are 16 percent of the U.S. workforce.


Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, @PhillyJoeD

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