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When Kaye Rose & Partners opened new offices at One Biscayne Tower last March, the Miami law firm set out to create a fun and relaxed atmosphere that would reflect the office’s maritime practice. They transformed the reception desk into the bow of a ship and cut portholes in the lobby walls. A three-dimensional artist was hired to paint “an ugly pillar” in the conference room to resemble a ship’s funnel, complete with rivets and rust. A Titanic model that managing partner Jeffrey Maltzman picked up at a silent auction graces one side of the conference room — which, of course, overlooks the Port of Miami cruise terminals — and a drawing of the Titanic the other. The kitchen, dubbed the galley, features teak furniture, blue cabinets and flags of several nations. But the decor isn’t all about fun. It’s also about fostering an atmosphere of teamwork. Toward that end, the firm included a den with soft leather couches and chairs where employees can relax, spread the law library throughout the office so lawyers are forced to mingle and enclosed the lawyers’ offices with glass walls — “the theory being,” says Maltzman, “that if you can see your coworkers you’ll work with your coworkers.” The offices complement the extreme casual dress policy (even shorts are OK) the office adopted long ago. Kaye Rose is not the only law firm to take its decor seriously — and strive to make its offices reflect its practice, clients and corporate culture. As law firms expand and move to larger quarters, they are carefully planning their interiors — and often sparing no expense — to communicate the right image. At the same time, the firms are adopting the latest technology — computerized gizmos that allow them to teleconference with clients across the world, e-mail lawyers at sister offices and look up cases and discovery on the Internet, without ever having to crack open a book. That’s especially true where Ferrell Schultz Carter Zumpano & Fertel is concerned. When the 20-lawyer Miami firm moved into larger offices in the penthouse of Miami Center, it took advantage of the latest the high-tech world has to offer, creating a law firm where James Bond would fit right in. One touch of a computer monitor in the plush conference room can close the shades or shut the door or turn down the lights, or turn on CD, DVD or VCR players. The entire conference room is “miked” so that no one has to raise his or her voice in the middle of sensitive negotiations. Six conference rooms offer teleconferencing, both internal and international. An elaborate, Embassy-level security system tracks employees’ whereabouts — they’re required to flash special cards before entering a room. The expense of being state-of-the-art was well worth it, says managing partner Joseph Zumpano, who wouldn’t say how much the company spent. “We believe high-end institutions we represent, like Lone Star Industries and the Cisneros Group, value efficiency,” he says. “We have made significant expenditures toward that end, but there is a corresponding result.” But the firm, which resembles an art gallery more than a place where the law is practiced, devotes just as much attention to aesthetics. Firm chairman Milton Ferrell, with the help of his wife, Lori, former president of the Miami Art Museum, played interior decorator. They commissioned nationally recognized artists like Jose Bedia and Ruben Torres Llorca, furniture designer Dakota Jackson and architect Richard Carlson of Swanke Hayden to create an atmosphere that would appeal to the firm’s well-heeled Latin American corporate clients. The glossy mahogany furniture, green velvet chairs, Torres Llorca’s wall of masks in the conference room, the ever-present bowl of fresh magenta, yellow and red orchids in the lobby — all are intended to relax and intrigue clients and, Ferrell says frankly, “keep everyone from suing each other.” And the kitchen — complete with cappuccino machine and soda fountain, full-time chef and serving staff — is intended not only to impress clients and keep their lunchtime conversations private, but to save money. “Instead of spending two hours at lunch, a lawyer can just order up a sandwich,” says Zumpano. Another law firm that could double as an art museum is Colson Hicks Eidson. After 35 years in downtown Miami, the 12-lawyer plaintiffs firm moved from the 47th floor of the First Union Financial Center to a three-story building in Coral Gables, Fla., last year — about as big a change in scenery as you can get. They bought a 75-year old building designated a historic landmark and built an addition to it, renting out space to Books & Books and other tenants. They hired architect Raul Rodriguez, who designed the American Airlines terminal at Miami International Airport, and decorator Scott Carter. The offices are an eclectic mix of old and new, mixing modern, Arquitectonica-designed furniture, sleek contemporary floor lamps, paintings by modern artist Biff Elrod and a handmade Persian rug from the 1800s — all in a Mediterranean-style building. The influence of partner Mike Eidson, a serious art and rug collector who sits on the board of the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., is apparent. The firm considered doing away with its law library in the new building but instead decided to cut its size in half. The bulk of legal information is now available on the Internet, but certain medical and engineering books the firm needs are not. Still, the small library is hardly used. Roberto Martinez, a partner at the firm, thought he would miss the view of Biscayne Bay, but he hasn’t. “This space works well,” he said in his spacious, sun-filled office. Sheldon J. Schlesinger, a prominent Fort Lauderdale trial lawyer, also prefers working in an old-fashioned, low-rise building to laboring in a modern downtown high-rise with parking garage. Ten years ago, when he outgrew his old quarters, he had his sons, Greg and Scott (both lawyers in the firm), design a new building patterned after a late 19th century Southern city hall or courthouse — think Charleston, S.C., or Atlanta. The three-story, white clapboard building features green shutters, outdoor balconies and — most striking of all — a cupola. Figuring it’s a historic landmark, tourists show up regularly — and are shocked to learn it was built in 1990. The interior, with its polished wood floors, spiral staircase and atrium rising to the cupola, looks nothing like a law firm, either. And Scott Schlesinger wouldn’t have it any other way. “It makes for pleasant working conditions,” he said. “If you spend eight or 10 hours in an office, it can be kind of hard on you. This isn’t. There’s all this ambient light.” What Schlesinger is most proud of — and was recently featured on ABC’s “20/20″ — is his mock courtroom. The mahogany pews, the judge’s bench, the flags, the jury box replicate a Southern courtroom right down to the wooden gavel — and help Schlesinger and his partners prepare for trial. In the corner sits the front end of a General Motors truck, left over from a trial in which Schlesinger recently won a $60 million verdict. Life-size dummies and anatomy charts occupy the other end. But opulence does not travel everywhere. As the Miami firm Zack Kosnitzky opened a Weston office last month, it put the emphasis on technology, not on luxurious furnishings. With just three lawyers to start, they rented windowless, modest space in a one-story office building, but made sure to install video cameras and computer links so the lawyers there can videoconference with and e-mail those in Miami, as well as have online access to firm billing records. “The offices are more functional than opulent,” says managing partner Mike Kosnitzky. “We have an opulent, urban office with marble in Miami. That’s not what the [Weston] community wants. It’s a family place.”

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