Law firm Piper Rudnick has assembled one of the largest real estate practices in the nation and continues to grow. The Chicago-launched firm ranked No. 20 on The National Law Journal's 2003 list of the largest U.S. law firms by number of attorneys. In fiscal 2003, Piper Rudnick's gross revenues climbed 19% to $455 million, up from $382 million the previous year.

Early in 2003, Piper Rudnick entered Boston by hiring more than 30 real estate and litigation attorneys from Hill & Barlow, and added three real estate lawyers in Los Angeles. This year, the firm merged with Steinhart & Falconer to establish a San Francisco office, adding 32 lawyers. The firm also added eight real estate attorneys in New York and seven in L.A. Jay Epstien co-chairs Piper Rudnick's real estate department from an office in Washington, D.C., and recently spoke with NREI about the firm's expansion.

NREI: Why is the firm expanding its real estate practice now?

Epstien: We need to be national to serve national players, and the strategy is to build the firm's strongest suits of litigation, corporate law, government affairs and real estate. In real estate, our strategy is to build where we had an office without large real estate groups, like Los Angeles and New York, or grow in cities where we didn't have offices, such as Boston and San Francisco.

NREI: Do you anticipate entering more markets?

Epstien: We plan to build on what we've accomplished in the last 12 months. We believe the addition of these highly recognized real estate groups will attract even more real estate lawyers in those cities. As far as additional cities, we're opportunistic, but we're focused on building upon what we've got.

NREI: Is the commercial real estate industry oversupplied or undersupplied with lawyers?

Epstien: The industry is not oversupplied at all. Many young lawyers who practiced in the early 1990s had to move to other jobs as the real estate cycle hit bottom, and as a result there was a shortage of real estate lawyers when the market began its resurgence in the mid- to late 1990s. Today, there is a shortage of lawyers with 7 to 10 years of experience, but there is significant interest today from younger lawyers who want to be involved in a transactional practice.

NREI: What do real estate clients look for in a law firm today, and how does your expansion help meet those expectations?

Epstien: Lots of people are able drafters of documentation, but clients place a high value on a real estate lawyer who can identify the tough issues and help craft solutions. A combination of substantial deal experience and creative thinking enables the best lawyers to add value to complex transactions. The players today are more national in scope. The major real estate investment trusts, like Equity Office Properties Trust and Vornado Realty, control a huge segment of the U.S. office market. While active entrepreneurs remain in each market, they are finding it harder to compete with the large institutional players that have access to Wall Street capital. Under those conditions, connecting with a quality law firm that has national coverage is a big advantage.