Thanks to the pandemic, many Biglaw firms voluntarily closed down their offices, encouraging their attorneys and staff members to work remotely to help stop the spread of COVID-19. But in some areas of the country, Biglaw firms were essentially forced out of their offices entirely due to local occupancy orders and restrictions.
One of those firms was Crowell & Moring. The firm says that it was put out of its Washington, D.C., office for more than a year thanks to the pandemic, and now is attempting to recover $30 million in rent it claims it was not required to pay during the height of the coronavirus crisis. Reuters has the details:
Washington-based Crowell said in its complaint this month in District of Columbia Superior Court that its lease gave the firm a right to abate rent after a “material interference” inhibited using its 391,757 square-feet of office space near the White House.
Local orders restricted Crowell’s office access from March 2020 through May 2021, which ran contrary to its lease agreement on use of the space, the firm said.
Crowell said it paid TREA Trust more than $30 million in rent between April 2020 and May 2021 but is entitled to a 98% abatement because office access “was reduced to less than 2% of the normal use and access” under the lease.
Crowell has remained in its D.C. location for 30 years, but with such a great monetary loss, a spokesperson said the firm was “left with no choice” but to sue. TREA Trust says it will “vigorously defend against this meritless action.”
This is neither the first time a Biglaw firm has sued to recover funds related to COVID-19 rent, nor is it Crowell’s first time at this rodeo. The firm sued its landlord in San Francisco in 2020, and that case was dismissed last spring. Jenner & Block settled a claim with its landlord back in 2021, while Schulte Roth & Zabel will be going to trial on a $10 million rent abatement claim this year.
Best of luck to the firm as it tries to recover on its multimillion-dollar claim.
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.