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They’re joking in the halls of Atlanta’s Alston & Bird these days about next year being “2001 — A Space Odyssey.” You probably would, too, if your Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., and Washington, D.C. offices were all moving next year. The law firm even has appointed a special Office of the Future Committee to tackle the intricate planning. “We’re constantly tinkering with design to make sure that the new space is the most efficient, given the way things change,” says Managing Partner Ben F. Johnson III. “And space design concepts have changed radically since we moved into this building 12 years ago.” The firm will remain at One Atlantic Center but will expand into its new space. Johnson says that while secretaries previously worked primarily on word processing, now lawyers do much of their own word processing. That means attorney offices have to be close to printers. And attorneys tend to work in teams more than they did previously, he says. This means offices now are grouped so lawyers, paralegals and secretaries can work together more effectively. “When we moved here, maybe a third of the associates had exterior offices,” Johnson adds. “Most of the conference rooms were on the exterior. You had secretarial workstations primarily off of one lawyer.” THE NEW LOOK In the new offices Johnson says every lawyer will have window access and secretaries will be paired with multiple lawyers. “And we’re building space with more flexibility. Where you tended to be locked into sheetrock and moldings 10 or 12 years ago, things are much more modular now, reducing the expense of rearranging.” Johnson says conference rooms also now are more likely to be moved to central spaces. But there are other new issues that law firms must consider when they move. For starters, it’s a developers’ market in Atlanta. Firms learn not to expect the incentives and perks offered just a decade ago. And then there is the change in space needed. In the past, they needed room for massive law libraries and printing facilities. Now with CDs and the Internet, libraries are shrinking in favor of more workspace. And printing presses often are offsite. WHAT TO LOOK FOR John Izard, a broker with Cushman & Wakefield of Georgia Inc., says there are several distinctions between what corporations want and law firms, which he says have “the most complicated but interesting and intellectually challenging office requirements in the market.” With a law firm, the lease is usually its second-largest expense after payroll, Izard says. Law firms also may be expanding and contracting, but still need to negotiate long-term arrangements for space. And unlike a corporation, partners know expenses directly affect their pay. “Their assets get on the elevator every night,” says Izard. William Kitchens, managing partner for Arnall Golden & Gregory, knows what moving involves. His firm moved in 1994 and will move again in four years. From experience, he says there are five considerations for space: operations, technology, building, geography and finances. A law firm looking for new space, Kitchens says, also should negotiate options for expansion, contraction, sublease and renewal, plus price and attorney liability issues. Kitchens says if a firm has a good credit history and longevity, it should be able to negotiate a satisfactory deal on lease liability. He also says it’s unreasonable for a landlord to hold every partner liable and demand a substantial guarantee from every partner. A building not only should have adequate power and telecommunication features, he says, but also backups that quickly kick in if the primary components fail. And, he says, the building should allow for flexibility in office design. OFFICE ‘MUSTS’ A new site also should have extensive amenities, 24-hour accessibility and good parking, Kitchens says, plus be close to courts and other firms. “Commuting is a big-ticket item,” he says. “We wouldn’t consider a building that’s not accessible to public transportation.” As corporate workplaces become more casual, law firms are paying more attention to their image. “The real big firms are still building pretty fancy space,” says Cushman & Wakefield’s Izard. “It’s not as stuffy as it was 25 years ago where you felt like you were in a museum, but it’s still pretty nice space.” Beyond those big firms, however, mid-size and small firms are experimenting. “The most expensive thing in building office space is millwork and decorative lighting,” says Izard. “There is definitely a trend toward not as high-end millwork — painted instead of stained or having millwork in the front part of the office and more utilitarian space in the back.” DIFFERENT LOOKS Jay Dowlen, an attorney and colleague of Izard’s at Cushman & Wakefield, says law firms that work extensively with technology firms, want a “unique, creative, funky type of space” to accommodate those clients. “I think your more boutique firms are going to cater to their particular clientele.” At least one big Atlanta law firm is negotiating for space in a contemporary building going up in Atlanta’s trendy Midtown. “There are still the ‘Brooks Brothers’ law firms that want to be in the big towers,” says Clark Gore, executive vice president of Holder Properties, developers of Millennium in Midtown. “They’re still wearing the blue pinstriped suit and white shirt to work everyday. They gravitate to the heavy marble, very formal, and a lot of ornate detail. “But there’s also been some relaxing of the more formal protocol in the legal field. You’ve got emerging, more casual and contemporary medium to smaller-size law firms. They get into relaxed dress codes and gravitate toward more contemporary finishes in their office space.” Gore calls his company’s new development “a fusion of the old and the new.” It will feature more woods, including on the ceiling, loft ceiling masonry finishes and terrazzo floors. “There are opportunities in this development cycle that are more contemporary, less formal,” says Gore. “Some of the law firms are very comfortable in considering those options and making commitments to those types of buildings.” One small firm that is already comfortable with more upbeat surroundings is Christie, Toreno & Hatcher. The three attorneys recently broke off from Savell & Williams. The firm had hoped to find a loft for its office, but opted instead to remodel what it says was reasonably priced space in the Harris Tower in Peachtree Center. The firm is youthful, with Carrie L. Christie, at 40, its oldest partner. “We came from a very traditional firm setting in every sense of the word,” says Christie. “When you walked in it looked like 95 percent of the firms-dark wood, Oriental carpet, overstuffed furniture. We wanted something much more upbeat, much more light.” But the hunt for office space wasn’t easy, she says. Most brokers she met steered her to the traditional amenities — “enormous partners’ offices, a lot of little cubicles for secretaries and paralegals and always this massive law library.” STARTING OVER The firm finally found what it wanted in offices vacated by an advertising agency. They quickly went to work creating the image and comfort they wanted. Walls were removed, flooring changed to light maple, stainless steel and glass were added for an image of open workspace and the walls that remained were painted an off-white to create a loft-like feel. The firm also chose Italian leather furniture and artwork that features blown glass and bright colors. And, significantly, there are no doors on attorney’s offices. “We went for a loft look, but without the price,” says Christie. “And we’ve been very happy. The nicest compliment we get is that every time somebody comes up to our space they say, ‘Wow. I can’t believe this is a law firm.’”

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