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Newark reestablishing itself as heart of legal industry in N.J.

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Howard Kailes heads the corporate practice group at McCarter & English.
Howard Kailes heads the corporate practice group at McCarter & English. - ()

Law firms are on the rise again in Newark. It's a story not unlike that of its tallest skyscraper.

The National Newark Building once stood as something like a great lighthouse in how wayward attorneys were guided to it. In the late 1940s, according to the late Newark historian Nat Bodian, 80 percent of the 35-story 744 Broad St. building consisted of law firms.

Its status deteriorated with the crime-related decline of Newark in the 1990s. The law firms (and nearly everyone else) disembarked by the time it was purchased for $7.5 million in 1998, when the owner was reporting 80 percent vacancy.

But this building, which underwent a $68 million renovation in 2002 — attracting high-profile tenants, more than 20 law firms and an overall 80 percent occupancy rate in the process — well exemplifies Newark's larger revitalization.

Newark as a whole now has more than 50 Fortune 500 companies with a presence within its city limits; and at least Prudential Financial, PSE&G and Panasonic have firmly embedded themselves there.

Law firms — carried by the winds of those potential clients — are once again setting sail for Newark.

McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, the biggest law firm in the state with around 200 New Jersey attorneys, joined a batch of practices (including Herrick, Feinstein LLP and Genova Burns Giantomasi Webster) that have sought to establish strong presences in Newark.

To that end, the Morristown-based McElroy Deutsch worked to integrate roughly 30 attorneys with strong Newark ties who were part of a firm that it merged with 10 years ago.

Nicole Alexander, director of professional and business development for the firm, said there are reasons besides the obvious — more affordable office space than Manhattan offers — that makes Newark appealing to law firms.

“It can't be omitted that Newark has really great public transportation options to other locations in and out of the city,” she said. “Plus, revitalization continues to be a buzzword in downtown Newark. It's sort of having a rebirth, making a centralized location there desirable.”

McCarter & English agreed.

“McCarter has been in Newark for 170 years — we're very committed to this place,” said Howard Kailes, head of the firm's corporate practice group. “It's the renaissance city — and it's been a great central location for us.”

Not only has Newark been great for McCarter, McCarter has been great for Newark. Some of the modern skyline that now flanks older infrastructure like the National Newark Building is owed partially to McCarter's efforts.

The firm's real estate practice aided in certain facets of constructing Prudential Financial's 20-story Newark headquarters. The 12-story Panasonic building was another project in which the firm was instrumental.

But McCarter & English itself isn't necessary expanding its Newark office in the same way its footprint elsewhere has — in burgeoning technology corridors in and around the state.

That said, the firm has a bond to the city — established even before National Newark Building and its comeback story — that it wouldn't consider breaking.

“How could we? This is the renaissance city,” Kailes said.

E-mail to: brettj@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @reporterbrett

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