Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Wingback chairs — out. Contemporary furniture — in. Oriental rugs — out. Marble — in. Dark woods — out. Muted, natural colors — in. While some Washington, D.C., law firms still choose a relatively traditional look, an increasing number of firms is opting for sleek, modern litigation centers, coffee bars, and reception areas that highlight stone and natural light. By looking to more contemporary designs and materials, firms in the nation’s capital are finding ways to redesign their existing space or create modern looks in newly built offices to project one strong image that reflects their culture. With these new designs, attorneys and designers alike say that the firms want to send the message that they represent efficiency and fiscal responsibility. D.C. law firms have been moving toward a more modern and contemporary look for several years, according to Nestor Santa-Cruz of SKB Architecture and Design. “In the last five to 10 years, we’ve seen a move away from what we call the ‘Williamsburg look’ — wingback chairs and dark wood in reception areas — to more contemporary, timeless designs.” For many law firms, modern means clean, straight lines and neutral-toned materials, says Tom Jones, also of SKB. Both Santa-Cruz and Jones agree that many firms are looking at ways to use natural stone and lighter woods to create a look that is “sexy” while not looking like a spendthrift. For example, SKB helped Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw create a look that fit in with the firm’s home office in Chicago, but with an added D.C. flavor. The result, according to Jones, was a contemporary “federal” model — a somewhat traditional space that mixed inlaid marble with “contemporary profiles.” While design professionals are helping law firms explore more modern materials and designs, sometimes it’s the lawyers themselves who who want to abandon traditional appearances. “Young partners are traveling more, staying in hip boutique hotels, and getting exposed to more in the way of design. That’s influencing their tastes and choice of materials for offices,” says Santa-Cruz. To help firms choose the materials and architectural designs that are right for them, many designers say it’s essential to understand a firm’s culture. But creating that individualized message can be a lengthy process. Arnold Levin of Mancini Duffy, an architecture and design firm, says his company conducts focus groups with attorneys and staff to connect the new design to the image of the firm’s culture. Mancini Duffy tries to determine how firms want their space to differ from the competition. Levin says it also looks at such factors as the level of informality a firm might be comfortable with and whether the law office is part of an international firm, needing a more global flavor. For example, Levin says, Mancini Duffy discovered that the D.C. office of Texas-based Haynes and Boone has a less formal atmosphere than many other D.C. firms and that its lawyers are very connected to information technology. In inventing a space for them, Mancini Duffy created a reception area with flat-screen monitors in its reception area to convey the message that Haynes and Boone is “tech savvy.” As for color, many designers say you can’t generalize about what’s “hot” now. Instead, they try to customize each firm’s palette. For instance, take a peek inside many newly designed firms and you can find lots of neutral colors. Barbara Brown, chair of the Washington office of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker who is on a committee researching the space the firm will move into in 2005, says that the Washington office started with the design and color palette used in the firm’s newly designed New York and L.A.-area offices, which reflect very clean lines and white finishes. “We wanted a consistent style language, so we of course looked at what our other offices had done. We wanted similarities in materials and a style idea to convey a consistency among offices. But we softened and warmed the look, consistent with what the D.C. partners wanted. That meant more fabrics, some light woods, and fewer white finishes.” The offices, designed by DMJM Rottet, have a “monumental” feel, one that fits a city with an abundance of monuments. Some designers select a theme based on colors taken from firm logos to stay consistent with PR and branding efforts, says Todd DeGarmo of Studios Architecture, another interior design and architecture firm. The colors of wood and stone details also affect color choices, he says. Choice of color can be inspired by a firm’s art collection. Lots of light materials were used in the reception area of O’Melveny & Myers, which has a modern art collection. Terese Wilson of Lehman-Smith & McLeish says the designers and architects at her firm went for a very modern look for the D.C. office of California-based O’Melveny. “Their look is a bit more edgy and progressive” than other D.C. law firms, says Wilson. As you step off the elevators, you encounter light marble on the floor and very modern lighting — light onyx sheet fixtures that look like slabs of marble, which are actually backlit. While there is a minimal use of color through the space, Wilson says red and chartreuse were chosen for strategically placed accents to reflect O’Melveny’s taste. THINKING BEYOND COLOR If law firms have different takes on how their interiors should look to reflect their individual cultures and personalities, there is a consensus about one of the most important features in law firm design today — flexibility in how that freshly designed space can be used now, as well as in 10 to 15 years. With real estate costs at a premium, law partners are looking at ways to maximize flexibility for their new spaces. As a result, firms are moving toward more uniform office sizes, smaller partner offices, and spaces that can be used for multiple purposes, according to almost all architects working on D.C. law offices. “By making some of these changes in how we’ve traditionally designed law firms, you can really gain maximum flexibility and efficiency in the use of space,” says Jay Epstien, a real estate partner at Piper Rudnick and head of the firm’s office-search committee, which just recently announced that the firm will be moving to a site in the Penn Quarter in 2007. “By creating the most flexible space, you can save a lot of money on future reorganization and reconstruction, and avoid internal demolition, which can be quite costly,” he notes. But Epstien does not believe most D.C. firms are culturally ready yet for a change that firms in other cities are using to maximize space — internal associates’ offices without windows. Another big change is the shrinking law library. The need for research and book storage space is getting smaller as more attorneys are relying on online research. So rather than including the traditional, large law library in new offices, firms are using some of that square footage to satisfy the growing demand for litigation “war rooms” and case management space and locating it near support space like copying centers, libraries, and paralegal offices. “Lawyers are working differently today, in a more collaborative way,” says Mancini Duffy’s Levin. “Attorneys are realizing that it’s more efficient to have space and support services for large cases all in one centralized location, rather than spread out through the firm.” Studios’ DeGarmo adds that as a result of that change, “you end up creating a space that is reminiscent of the business centers you find in high-end airline clubs.” And then there’s the issue of lighting. Lawyers are realizing that a single fluorescent in an office isn’t the way to go, either for good design or for protecting their eyes. Steve Polo of OPX, a strategy and design firm, says many designers are trying to do whatever they can to bring outside light into law firms, both as a design element and for practical purposes. Polo says, “Using more natural light helps foster a sense of well-being in those spaces.” Wilson of Lehman-Smith & McLeish says building-height restrictions in D.C. also create a lighting challenge in many spaces. “Because of that, we try to find multiple ways to use light and light-colored materials to provide a bright atmosphere,” she says. Architects are also considering attorneys’ lifestyles when planning the firms’ new looks. While the large law library used to be a communal gathering place for lawyers, that is less true today because of online research. So to promote attorney and staff interaction, new types of common spaces are being introduced. One designer likens this move to a need for family-room-type space. As a result, more attorney offices are planning for the inclusion of coffee bars, catered lunch areas, and rooftop terraces. Firms are also using their new contemporary spaces as recruiting and retention tools, according to some. Santa-Cruz of SKB says law firms are aware that many lawyers spend the bulk of their waking hours working at the office, so attorneys have become more aware of using amenities, appearance, and ergonomics as tools in attracting and keeping employees. Piper Rudnick’s Epstien disagrees slightly. He believes lawyers are actually spending less time in the office because of the increasing ability to work productively on the road or at home because of high-speed Internet connections, computers, and other electronic gadgets. Ultimately, it seems, D.C. law firms are not going for ultra-modern looks or trends in their reinvented office spaces, and they will probably never be ready for “Ally McBeal”-type unisex bathrooms, but they are expanding their design horizons with many different factors being taken into account that would probably get the approval of even the design personalities on TV. Joanne Cronrath Bamberger is an attorney and free-lance writer in Chevy Chase, Md. She was formerly an attorney with Piper & Marbury (now Piper Rudnick LLP), as well as senior counsel and deputy director of public affairs of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.