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Westin Invests to Help Lawyers Prep for Battle

The recently completed $15 million renovation of downtown’s Westin San Diego included the addition of what some might call a turbo-charged version of a conference facility, tailored specifically to lawyers.

The 436-room hotel at 400 W. Broadway now has two high-tech “war rooms” geared toward attorneys involved in trial preparation, depositions, briefings with witnesses and other types of legal work.

The Westin, across the street from California Superior Court and three blocks from U.S. District Court, bills itself as the only San Diego hotel offering such law-centric prep facilities. The two sound-proofed rooms — 1,017 and 862 square feet — have elements including large conference tables, secured phone and Internet lines, and a 90-inch high-definition flat-screen TV for presentations.

“We surveyed the legal community in terms of what they would need to make this kind of thing work,” Westin San Diego General Manager Alyssa Turowski said. “There are certain things like lighting that people want to adjust every once in a while, if they’re spending 16- to 18-hour workdays on some cases.”

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The cost ranges from $850 to $1,200 per day, depending on food and beverage and other services requested. Lawyers began using the war rooms in January, and those customers also tend to book hotel rooms and dine at the Westin’s on-site restaurants throughout their stay.

Found to be ‘Indespensible’

Experts agree that legal war rooms are relatively new and rare for U.S. hotels, scattered among cities including Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and Washington, D.C. They are most practical for larger markets, specifically for hotels that are close to county and federal courts, and they are used primarily by lawyers whose firms don’t have their own court-adjacent offices in the city where a trial or legal briefing is taking place.

Among the first to use the Westin San Diego war rooms in early January was David McDowell, a partner in the Los Angeles office of international law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.

McDowell, who has used similar dedicated facilities at hotels in Chicago and Dallas, said the configuration is a sensible alternative to setting up temporary spaces in hotel meeting rooms. Those set-ups frequently have to be assembled and taken back down during the course of a long trial and don’t provide the same level of privacy or document security.

Each Westin war room has a separate administrative office, storage and shelving for large amounts of legal files, dual-locking entrance doors, adjustable lighting and other elements geared to giving out-of-town lawyers a working place to call home — sometimes for days or weeks depending on the nature of the legal matter.

“I have found a war room to be indispensable,” said McDowell, who handles consumer class-action trials. “And I’m sure it doesn’t hurt the hotels any when the attorneys are coming to stay in the guest rooms during trials, and sometimes putting their witnesses up in guest rooms.”

War Rooms Among Other Upgrades

Hotel consultant Robert Rauch, who operates two Hilton-branded properties in Carmel Valley, said there is likely not large demand for war rooms in that northern San Diego neighborhood and others where law firms have a large presence and their own legal prep facilities.

However, he and other operators are often called on to set up short-term space accommodations for arbitrations and other matters requiring a neutral site. For a hotelier, the choice of whether to invest in a war room is guided by factors such as location and how often the services would be used.

“It’s similar to what a hotel would do to address the needs of a high-end client,” said Rauch, president of San Diego-based R.A. Rauch & Associates Inc.

Westin San Diego’s renovation also included upgrades to its guest rooms, meeting spaces, restaurant, lobby and lounge areas, with the addition of a fitness studio. The property was bought in 2012 by DiamondRock Hospitality Co. of Bethesda, Md., for $122.8 million.

The hotel is operated by Interstate Hotels & Resorts through an agreement with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.

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