Twenty years after entering the Northwest Arkansas market, the state’s largest Arkansas-based law firm is planning another significant move.
And it will be an additional example of the shifting business climate in the region.
Little Rock-based Friday, Eldredge & Clark LLP, known in the legal community as the “Friday firm,” is planning to consolidate its two Northwest Arkansas offices into a single location. The firm is winding down operations at its Fayetteville office on North Futrall Drive. In just a few weeks, Friday will house all of its attorneys and staff at its existing Rogers office on the top floor of a 43,500-square-foot office building at 3350 S. Pinnacle Hills Parkway, west of Interstate 49.
Marshall Ney, a partner who oversees the Rogers office, says the firm is adding about 3,000 square feet to accommodate the consolidation. Friday is building out a former vendor office adjacent to its existing space. When the expansion is complete, the firm will have about 10,000 square feet and the capacity for nearly 20 lawyers.
Friday’s attorney roster in Northwest Arkansas has gradually shifted toward Benton County through the years. The firm now has 11 attorneys based in Northwest Arkansas — eight in Rogers and three in Fayetteville.
Five years ago, the firm had nine attorneys based in the region, seven of them from the primary office in Fayetteville, which measures roughly 7,500 square feet.
The firm will complete the consolidation later this spring. Ney said the Rogers expansion would re-up a 10-year lease with the building owner.
“The majority of our growth over the past several years has been in Benton County,” Ney said. “It makes sense at this point to have the synergy of [having] all our lawyers in a single office.”
Ney said the firm would be “opportunistic” in adding attorneys in Northwest Arkansas. The office handles a variety of work, including business transactional work, tax advice, real estate transactional work, estate planning, school law and business disputes, with an emphasis on noncompete agreements and trade secrets.
One position that will be filled on the immediate horizon, Ney said, is an additional tax attorney. That would fit the firm profile. Of the firm’s nearly 90 attorneys, almost a third of them also have the Masters of Laws in Taxation degree.
“I think that differentiates our firm from most any firm in this region of the country to have such a huge percentage of lawyers who have advanced legal degrees in that area,” Ney said.
CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT
Friday’s move is the latest example of a company hoping to optimize its business — through either consolidation or relocation — by gravitating from Washington County north to Benton County.
In the past five years, Smith Hurst, a boutique law firm, and Cushman & Wakefield/Sage Partners, one of the state’s largest real estate firms, have made similar moves. Their original offices were in Fayetteville, they later added a satellite office in Rogers’ Pinnacle Hills area and eventually moved all operations to Rogers.
Garver, the state’s largest engineering, planning, architectural and environmental services firm, is headquartered in North Little Rock and opened a Fayetteville office in 1999. Earlier this year, after 20 years, the company felt the need to add a second office in Northwest Arkansas — to The District at Pinnacle Hills, a 54-acre commercial development in Pinnacle Hills along Pauline Whitaker Parkway. It’s being built out by Whisenvest Realty of Little Rock. Little Rock-based law firm Mitchell Williams also relocated its Rogers office two years ago to a larger building in The District at Pinnacle Hills.
Population growth is one factor driving the decisions. Northwest Arkansas as a whole is proliferating, of course. The development in Benton County, however, is setting the pace. In terms of both numbers and percentage, it is the fastest-growing county in the state, according to the latest population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s also one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.
Newer office space is another factor. Hunt Ventures in Rogers, led by chairman Johnelle Hunt, Whisenvest Realty and other developers have played significant roles in that area, bringing multiple mid-rise office buildings to the area, including the 10-story Hunt Tower, the tallest office building in Benton County. There are even more office buildings in the development pipeline for Pinnacle Hills.
According to data from CoStar Group, which provides commercial real estate information, the demand for office space in Northwest Arkansas is most substantial in the West Rogers submarket, comprised mainly of Pinnacle Hills. Todd Galvin, CoStar’s market analyst for Northwest Arkansas, said in the past 12 months, nearly 174,000 square feet has been absorbed in West Rogers, which leads all other areas in the metro.
Ney said he feels strongly that despite the region’s individual identities, the square mile or two surrounding Rogers’ Pinnacle Hills area is now Northwest Arkansas’ central business district.
“And that is not a slight to any of the individual communities [in Northwest Arkansas],” he said. “This [Pinnacle Hills] is where people office in critical mass, and there’s a synergy that comes from that. I think that is attractive to all of those businesses you see pouring into the area.”
EFFICIENT, NO LESS EFFECTIVE
Friday, Eldredge & Clark will celebrate its 150th birthday next year. It was formed in 1871 by two men to represent what was then the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway, one of the state’s first major legal clients.
Starting from that focus on the railroad industry, the Friday firm has evolved to serve clients in nearly every industry. The law office formed the partnership as it is known today in 1974 and has more attorneys than any other firm that’s headquartered in Arkansas.
The company entered the Northwest Arkansas market when it established a Fayetteville office in 2000. Its first Rogers office came online in 2006, in the Metro Park business development off Horsebarn Road. The firm relocated the Rogers office to Pinnacle Hills in January 2016.
Price Gardner has practiced law at the Friday firm in Little Rock since July 31, 1989. He was appointed the firm’s managing partner last year, overseeing a practice that includes nearly 90 attorneys and just as many support staff.
He said the consolidation discussion in Northwest Arkansas started a couple of years ago, not long after making a move in Rogers from Horsebarn Road to Pinnacle Hills.
“We started to see where the growth was and the [benefit] of having everybody working together,” he said. “We had more lawyers in the Rogers office, to begin with. We were either going to have to downsize and reconfigure the Fayetteville office or relocate it.”
Ney, who joined the Friday firm in December 2014, is based in Rogers and serves on the firm’s management committee, the only partner in Northwest Arkansas to do so. He said the firm’s consolidation in Northwest Arkansas had been centered on an ongoing discussion in the legal community: Do you better serve a particular region with one office or more than one? Answering that question with “one office,” Ney said, will make the firm more efficient but no less effective.
“The fact that our office is in Rogers should not suggest that we are not heavily involved [elsewhere],” he said. “At least half our lawyers live in Washington County, in particular in Fayetteville. We have many loyal clients in Fayetteville. We support the Walton Arts Center with some pro bono work and have an important relationship with the Razorback Foundation in Fayetteville.
“We remain fully committed to being in Fayetteville by where our lawyers live and the clients we serve.”
Friday, Ney in particular, represents the Razorback Foundation — the fundraising arm of the University of Arkansas athletics department — in its ongoing haggling related to the buyout amount owed to former UA football coach Bret Bielema.