Money

San Francisco rent is so high that some lawyers commute in on a $3 million jet—and save

Jets flying over Golden Gate Bridge
Jessica Ambats

Houston and San Francisco are separated by two states, approximately 1,934 miles and about four-and-a-half hours in the air. Still, a Houston-based law firm thinks a long-haul commute is actually the frugal and practical choice.

That's because the cost of living in San Francisco is among the highest in the country. In San Francisco proper, according to a study from financial website Smart Asset, the cost of living is nearly 63 percent higher than the U.S. national average.

Real-estate site Zillow notes that the median rent for an apartment there is an astonishing $4,400 a month, and the median price for a home borders $1.2 million.

That's a lot more expensive than Houston. The median rent for an apartment there is just $1,500, Zillow finds, and the median price for a home is $324,900.

So when law firm Patterson and Sheridan, which deals in patents and intellectual property, decided to expand its reach into the Silicon Valley market, it opted to keep its staff where they were.

Instead of relocating its office or opening a new one in the Bay Area, the firm decided to have lawyers commute once a month for meetings on a nine-seat, $3 million jet equipped with maple-paneled cabins and plush leather seats. It was, remarkably, the cost-effective decision.

Even with the cost of the jet, plus the $2,500 per hour cost to operate it, the firm says it can offer clients lower prices because most of the work is done in Houston, where commercial real estate is 43 percent cheaper, salaries are 52 percent lower and competition for technical talent less fierce, according to an original report in the Houston Chronicle.

Plus, the staff works during the flight, so those travel hours are billable, Todd Patterson, a managing partner at the firm, tells the publication. "We fly it full," he says. "It's not a luxury item."

Flying private works out to be less expensive than flying commercial, too, since lawyers can avoid about 36 hours in time spent arriving early at the airport, checking bags and waiting at security checkpoints.

According to the Chronicle, the firm came up with the idea of a plane in 2010 when teleconferencing with clients became unsatisfactory.

"[The] inventors want to sit down and to show their inventions," it reads. And staff "could find more business by being around after work."

The decision has apparently paid off. Not only has the firm gained several major clients but, lawyers say, they can also attract new talent who want a high-profile gig without the high costs of living in places like San Francisco.

Those costs have become a burden even for workers in the lucrative tech industry. For example, one Twitter employee living in the Bay Area and earning $160,000 a year said he was barely scraping by. And some Facebook engineers were reportedly struggling so much with rent that they asked co-founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg for help.

Patterson and Sheridan's strategy aims to offer the pluses of Bay Area contacts without the minuses of extravagant costs.

"I can see how it could work," William Cobb, a managing partner of Cobb Consulting, which advises Patterson and Sheridan's strategy, told the Chronicle. "If you are trying to establish an office and trying to hire, that would push me toward other alternatives."

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