For years, Epstein Becker & Green P.C.’s satellite office in Baltimore was a Panera Bread.
Attorneys from around the country would set up shop there — suit jackets slung over chairs, laptops laid out next to steaming bread bowls of soup — before jetting down the street for meetings at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Last month, the national firm traded in panini and pastries for permanent office space at 7000 Security Blvd., about a half mile away from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at 7500 Security Blvd.
“We thought, ‘This is crazy,’” said Thomas E. Hutchinson, a strategic advisor in the Baltimore office. “‘There has to be a better place to meet.’”
With the firm’s large health care practice, an office close to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is crucial, said Mark E. Lutes, chairman of the firm’s board of directors.
“It’s more about location, location, location,” Lutes said.
As the name indicates, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is the federal agency that regulates the Medicaid and Medicare programs. It has offices around the country, but is headquartered in Woodlawn, Baltimore County.
Epstein Becker & Green, which has nine other locations across the country, opened its Woodlawn office in February. It’s still largely empty, with desks and chairs waiting in a newly carpeted, freshly painted space in a standard gray mid-rise building.
“It seemed to us that we wanted to be at 7000 Security Blvd. because so much of our client base is fixated here,” Lutes said.
“I don’t think the citizens of Baltimore understand the vast significance Security Boulevard has to the health care economy,” he added. “It’s just vastly under-appreciated by those right among it.”
Nader Anise, of Nader Anise Lawyer Marketing in Florida, said a law firm opening an office near its area of practice gives the firm a “tremendous boost” over its competitors.
“It’s strategy,” Anise said. “It’s a very smart decision. It’s like the guy selling ice cream who’s right near the basketball courts in the summer. It’s like the hot dog stand that’s near the kids who are playing outside at lunch time.”
Such a location is almost like free advertising, he added.
“Simply by opening up where the Medicare and Medicaid offices are, this improves the chances of getting new clients,” Anise said. “It’s a boost without doing any marketing, without trying to promote yourself in any way.”
Anise said the only disadvantage would be if a law firm wanted to expand its practice into other areas. Epstein Becker & Green concentrates solely on health care law and labor and employment law.
“You may be pigeonholed, or stereotyped,” Anise said. “If that is your strategy — if you’re a niche player that has a niche area and that’s what you spend your time doing, then fine.”
Looking for a few more
The firm, which was founded more than 40 years ago in New York and Washington, D.C., has hired a few attorneys here already, and there are offices set aside for visiting attorneys to use when they are in the area. Many of the firm’s health care attorneys and strategic advisors are former Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services employees, as well, Lutes said.
The firm is still looking to hire here. Between attorneys and strategic advisors, it expects to add another six employees, Lutes said.
“Part of it is just opportunity,” Hutchinson said. “It’s not like we are saying we must have a dozen here by the end of the year.”
The firm’s clients include a wide range of health care providers and related industries — hospitals, physician groups, dialysis and urgent care centers, tech companies that make medical equipment, pharmaceutical companies.
“Everyone who contracts with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, sells things that are paid for by Medicare and Medicaid and follows closely all the changes in rules and developments of new interpretations — they are the ones who really benefit,” Lutes said.
Since such enterprises are largely national, the purpose of opening a Baltimore office was less to attract new clients than “to do a better job with the clients we have,” Lutes said.
“We are always looking to see what the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is doing,” Hutchinson said. “It’s not only one step. It’s all the details to implement it.”
For example, the firm helps clients understand when the Medicare and Medicaid programs change payment methodologies.
When disputes arise, attorneys and their clients meet with officials at the CMS office. But the firm’s clients also just meet regularly with officials at CMS headquarters to make sure their enterprise is complying with rules and payment plans.
“What we have to do is such a complicated endeavor, we have to talk constantly,” Lutes said.
The firm has been especially busy with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, helping clients understand how the act will affect them.
“The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and all of the providers are all partners in making the health care system work,” Lutes said. “We aid them in working out their partnership.”