Spokane Journal of Business

Riding the wave in a legal niche

Lee & Hayes plans move, expansion at Bank of America tower

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Lee & Hayes PLLC, a fast-growing law firm here that specializes in intellectual property, says it has outgrown its space in the Paulsen Center downtown and plans to move to the nearby Bank of America Financial Center, where it expects to continue its rapid expansion.

Meanwhile, the firm, which represents some of the worlds largest technology companies and is a top-ranked practice in the industrys fastest-growing niche, also is looking for a larger space for its Seattle office, says Lewis Lee, its co-founder. Additionally, it expects to open an office in China and an additional office in the U.S. within a year. Lee declines to disclose the firms annual billings.

Were growing quickly, but we also want to make sure were growing strategically, Lee says.

Lee & Hayes, which currently employs a total of 75 people at its offices here and in Seattle, plans to hire roughly 20 more people this year, including 12 attorneys and patent agents, Lee says. Most of those attorneys will be located at its Spokane office, he says. Last year, the firm added a net of about seven attorneys here and four attorneys in Seattle. It expects both its work force and billings to grow roughly 20 percent a year in the next few years.

The 14-year-old firm, which Lee and his partner, Dan Hayes, founded in the basements of their homes, has been located in the Paulsen Center, at 421 W. Riverside, since 1999. At that time, the firm had six attorneys. Now, its cramming 31 attorneys, plus support staff, into its space there, Lee says.

Lee & Hayes recently agreed to lease a total of more than 27,000 square feet of space on part of the 13th floor and the entire 14th floor of the Bank of America tower, at 601 W. Riverside, says Shaun Cross, a longtime Spokane attorney who recently joined the firm as CEO. The firms lease includes an option to take up the rest of the 13th floor, which would give it enough room to accommodate roughly 55 attorneys, plus staff, Cross says. It also has options for additional space elsewhere in the building. Spokane-based NAI Black handled the firms lease.

The firm plans to move by Oct. 1, after an extensive remodeling project has been completed on its new space, Cross says. It expects to select an architect soon and a contractor will be chosen from a list pre-approved by the buildings owner, Seattle-based Unico Properties LLC. The remodeling project is expected to start June 1.

Lee & Hayes offers legal services related to the development and commercialization of intellectual-property portfolios, so its growth owes largely to the rapidly increasing demand for intellectual property (IP) rights protection, Lee says. Intellectual property deals with a legal entitlement to the expressed form of an idea, or to some other intangible subject matter, such as in books, music, or software.

Lee says that when he and Hayes started the firm, intellectual property was a sleepy, scientific niche of law, but over the last decade, it has broken into the mainstream of the legal profession, driven mainly by the upsurge in software development.

To me, its just extraordinary to see the demand in the market for IP legal services, Cross says.

IP rights give their holder exclusive privileges to sell or license a particular property in the market, so they can have a substantial economic impact on Lee & Hayes clients, particularly multinational companies that market their products in foreign countries and thus need to file patents in those countries as well as in the U.S., Lee says. In addition to patent filing, the firm also helps clients with trademarks and licensing.

Weve become an innovation-driven economy, Lee says. Its not just the science and technology companies anymore. The importance of IP for protecting key assets continues to increase across the globe.

Although the software field still represents a strong area for growth, Lee & Hayes has expanded and diversified its client base to include clients in the health-care, telecommunications, and financial-services industries. It represents six of the 20 largest patent filers in the U.S. Some of its big-name clients include Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., GE Healthcare, Honeywell International Inc., Intel Corp., The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., St. Jude Medical Inc., and Boeing Co., Lee says. Spokane-area clients include Inland Northwest Health Services, Telect Inc., Pyrotek Inc., and Pearson Packaging Systems.

Because of the growth in both its domestic and international client base, and because of those clients own international growth, the firm is looking to extend its reach. Closer to home, it hopes to move its Seattle office to larger quarters this fall. The capacity of that office, which opened in 2004 and currently has 13 employees, is expected to increase to more than 25 employees, including 20 attorneys, as a result of the move, Cross says.

Two years ago, the firm said it was considering opening offices India and China. Although its plans in the latter country have been stalled because officials there have been busy preparing for the Olympics this summer, it expects to open an office within 12 months, Lee says. India, though, has proved harder to crack, because of legal issues that make it difficult for foreign firms to operate offices there, he says. He adds, though, that the firm still is supporting its clients in India.

Meanwhile, Lee & Hayes also plans to open another domestic office by the end of this year, Cross says, but he declines for now to disclose further details.

In addition to expanding its footprint, the firm also is focusing on expanding its services to drive growth and set it apart from other IP firms in an increasingly competitive field, he says. Now that Cross oversees the firms day-to-day operations, Lee says he and Hayes have been able to pursue other aspects of the business.

For instance, Lee is focusing on developing services that help clients manage their global IP portfolios, while Hayes is concentrating on helping clients understand and develop the underlying technological tools they need to manage their IP assets. The firm also offers business-consulting services to clients, helping them look at how they can use their IP portfolios to develop their business in a competitive marketplace, he says.

This is a new phenomenon for companies, in terms of the procurement and management of global IP portfolios, Lee says. When we understand the technology, law, and business aspects of IP, we can provide the best service to our clients.

The firms expansion has brought its share of growing pains, largely involving recruiting and the implementation of new management structures to handle its larger work force, Cross says.

The main challenge in recruiting is finding attorneys with an entrepreneurial spirit and experience in IP law, a field in which many lawyers also have backgrounds in science and business, Lee says. Most of the lawyers Lee & Hayes hires come from outside the Spokane area, but he says the firm hasnt had trouble recruiting people to this region.

While the firm is addressing its need for more space with the upcoming move, its also working on addressing workplace culture issues that arise as a result of rapid expansion, Cross says. Hes currently creating a strategic plan that will help guide the firms growth in the future and help its employees understand, prepare for, and adjust to that growth.

Contact Emily Proffitt at (509) 344-1265 or via e-mail

at emilyp@spokanejournal.com.

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