What it Takes to Move a Law Firm, Part 2

Pillsbury, in Washington, DC, and DLA Piper, in Chicago, are both moving into new spaces after 25 years at their respective locations. Real estate experts Robert Aldrich, a Managing Director at Cassidy Turley, and Andre Bellerjeau, the Global Practice Leader of Workplace for Little, spoke with key players behind both transactions about programming the new spaces and how the firms are bracing for the future of work.
This is part two of a two part series. Read part one here.
For more on the unique real estate and design challenges that law firms face, check out this Work Design Now video, featuring McDermott Will & Emery’s DC office.
Rendering of River Point, DLA Piper's future home in Chicago. Image courtesy of Hines.
Rendering of River Point, DLA Piper’s future home in Chicago. Image courtesy of Hines.

At Pillsbury, programming was a core focus for Kearns and her team.

“Conference room programming, library usage, [asking] how much do people visit administrator offices. We really tried to design to what people were using in existing spaces and then translate that to our new space,” she said.

To determine present utilization, the firm’s workplace committee put together a survey with the architects and gave it to everyone in the office, both lawyers and non‐lawyers. The results were the basis for preliminary test fits of different buildings, and aided decisions like whether or not to decrease the size of the library. In this case, it will be smaller.

“Law libraries are being transformed,” she said. “Now the space is needed for personnel and quiet meetings.”

“Law firm design is different,” she added. “There is so much confidentiality required that the idea a fully open and collaborative space is not appropriate. It’s a challenge to have a much more open, naturally lit space, with higher percentage of open workspace. We want a lot of light and openness but there must be recognition that we are not a ‘trading floor’.”

Epstien said that his team is approaching DLA Piper’s workplace solutions from a number of different angles.

“We spent a great deal of time looking at all situations, including base building systems,” he said. “We had national brokers representing our needs and hired a project manager directly to assist with our decisions.”

He added that, as he’s watched CRE evolve in this economy, he realizes that all sides will work aggressively to take care of tenants in every aspect of the job.

“We have seen law firms nationally heighten their efforts significantly to lessen real estate costs,” he said. “Top law firms are working really hard to manage costs across the board from the amount of space needed to final design.”

Despite the cost saving measures, Kearns said that Pillsbury’s core goals have remained the same: “We [still] want to impress clients with efficiency, comfort, and technological prowess.”

This is one reason that the space with best views on the highest floor of the new building will be used as a client facing area. Moves like this also help firms to attract and retain top talent.

“At DLA Piper we are highly sensitive to attracting and retaining talent, and we realize one size does not fit all,” said Epstien. “For example, in our offices in Sydney, Australia we have taken the step to put all private offices on the interior and other functions, like professional staff and younger lawyers, in an open space plan from the window line in. As support staff ratios have changed and electronic media continues to reduce reliance on paper, the challenge of planning interior spaces grows dramatically.”

As for the future of work, and the future of work at law firms, in particular, Kearns and Epstien both mentioned the struggle to reconcile desirable locations with the rising cost of space in urban cores.

“In London partners share offices because it’s so expensive,” said Epstien. “Location is a key driver in the law firm industry for employee retention and recruitment, and commuting patterns for attorneys and staff is an important driver for space selection.

And according to Kearns, hoteling or conferencing isn’t the solution – for now, anyway.

“We are not selling commodity,” she said. “Our clients hire us for experience and presence and we need to foster physical interaction with junior lawyers to enhance mentorship. On the job learning is so important that it is hard to imagine junior lawyers not working with senior professionals.”

She added that “the hardest thing about the build‐out is that the only thing we know for sure today is that tomorrow our needs are going to be different.”

Said Epstien: “No one can predict what is going to be in the next 5 years given where we have come the past 5 years. What we need to do is design and build workplaces to have enormous flexibility. You have to be able to adapt your space as the world continues to evolve.”

This is part two of a two part series. Read part one here.

For more on the unique real estate and design challenges that law firms face, check out this Work Design Now video, featuring McDermott Will & Emery’s DC office.

More from Andre Bellerjeau

What it Takes to Move a Law Firm, Part I

Two major law firms face the challenges of moving into new buildings...
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