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Barry Weinert, 46, director of corporate legal services at Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI), is a low-key guy who can be intensely focused at work. Silicon Valley-based SGI, with about $2.5 billion in annual sales, is no fly-by-night startup, but its fight to reclaim a top spot among the makers of high-end computers makes the company’s atmosphere electric. Deals happen fast; the pressure can be ferocious. All of which made the paper clips startling. They would zing over Weinert’s desk. Launched by his esteemed colleague, the contracts negotiator in the next cubicle, the tiny invaders “definitely relieved the tension,” says Weinert, brightening at the memory (his colleague has since moved on to another company). But such camaraderie wouldn’t have been possible if Weinert sat in a “hard-walled” office, as he did in private practice. The lawyers at SGI — in fact, nearly all of the company’s employees — sit in cubicles. SGI’s architecture epitomizes a trend in new workplace design that started in high-tech and dot-com businesses and now is invading the rest of Corporate America — even the sanctuaries of in-house lawyers. The business community is embracing the notion that space shapes behavior. Business Week magazine and the American Institute of Architects now co-sponsor annual architecture awards. The Harvard Business Review debates the merits of partitions versus walls. And the Corporate Design Foundation, a Boston-based nonprofit chartered in 1985 to push corporations to appreciate the value of design, is finding that businesses are no longer interested only in product design but now are also open to considering the value of architecture and workplace layout. Why the sudden infatuation with appearances? Part of it is emulation. Like billionaires’ wives cribbing club-kid fashions, businesses are trying to capture some of the energy and inventiveness of the early dot-com era by adopting informal, makeshift offices. But it’s not only about image. Work has changed. Speed, flexibility, and agility have become essential. Formality and hierarchy are out; accessibility and teamwork are in. Companies want offices that not only accommodate this culture change, but also spark it. The new thinking favors community over privacy: open floor plans instead of separate offices, and gathering places for meeting, greeting, and brainstorming, not quiet library research. The open-plan office was a radical new concept when Frank Lloyd Wright designed S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.’s headquarters in 1939 and put most of the employees — including the lawyers — in one giant room. Since then other companies have experimented with it, but only recently have open plans become the norm. The technology revolution has helped push the transformation. With a networked computer on almost every desk, corporate law libraries are going the way of the typing pool. Lavish corporate boardrooms are being fitted with equally lavish technology for video teleconferencing. And, despite the rhetoric about how effective open-plan offices are, cost-cutting is clearly a driving force. Cubicles occupy fewer square feet than private offices. They also can be broken down and reconfigured quickly and inexpensively. Corporate lawyers have spent the past decade eagerly integrating themselves into the strategies and goals of the businesses they serve. Some are embracing the new trend in corporate design as a way to shed their image as stuffy nitpickers divorced from the company’s work flow. Others, however, have reacted with horror. “HR and legal are the two disciplines that scream the loudest about needing privacy,” says Peter Lawrence, chairman and founder of the Corporate Design Foundation. Many attorneys also cling to the staid trimmings that quietly assert tradition, authority, and stability. Some lawyers are winning the war against Dilbertization. In 1996 Nortel Networks Corporation opened a new headquarters in an old 1-million-square-foot switching plant in Brampton, Ontario. All of the 3,500 employees who work in the award-winning building sit in cubicles — except for the lawyers: They have private perimeter offices. LVMH Mo’t Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA’s new headquarters building, which swirls like a glass ballgown, was dubbed one of New York City’s finest new buildings by New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp when it opened in 1998. Its lawyers sit in their own offices with windows. Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc. not only got rid of most private offices but also dumped the idea of tying space allocations to status when it replaced its Building One, the centerpiece of its headquarters campus in Nutley, N.J. Everyone from vice president to administrative assistant in the new building, completed in 1997, occupies a one-size-fits-all, 75-square-foot workstation. Everyone, that is, except the lawyers, who work in private offices of their own, in a separate building on the campus. Often entrusted with sensitive or secret information and charged with preserving attorney-client privilege, lawyers obviously can make a strong argument for why they should be spared from cubicle life. Even their mountains of documents require extra space and privacy. Or so they say. Alcoa Inc. figured a way around this problem at its innovative new corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh (which, thanks to the missionary zeal of chairman Paul O’Neill, is the poster child for open-plan work environments). All employees, including the lawyers, were required to scan the contents of their file cabinets into their computers and either destroy or warehouse nearly all of their paper. Twenty-five tons were trashed before the move into the new cubicle-only facility. To see how lawyers are faring in other corporations’ newly designed workplaces, Corporate Counsel visited three law departments, each of which shows a very different approach to space: � Representing the most futuristic is Silicon Graphics (SGI); its four-building headquarters looks like a space station that accidentally landed in Mountain View, Calif. � Cincinnati-based Convergys Corporation serves as our traditional model. Bucking the latest fads, Convergys recently pulled its lawyers out of the business units they serve and concentrated them in traditional, secure offices two floors below the executive suite. � And telecommunications giant Sprint Corporation demonstrates compromise in the Washington, D.C., office that it recently built for its lawyers and lobbyists. THE FUTURE: SILICON GRAPHICS’ MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF., CAMPUS When SGI decided to build a new campus in Silicon Valley, its primary concern was the care and feeding of its engineers. In a market where a company’s options are either continuous innovation or untimely death, every high-tech employer wants to keep its engineers happy and productive. SGI spent approximately $100 million on the 27-acre complex, and the result is an ideal habitat for techies. It’s not bad for the lawyers either, even though their special needs never figured into the planning. When SGI planned the campus in 1996, it was at the top of its game. The company’s superpowerful imaging workstations crunched the special effects data that made the car-eating dinosaurs in the movie “Jurassic Park” look real. SGI was one of the companies to work for in the Valley, and then-chief executive officer Edward McCracken wanted architecturally significant buildings that would signal a sexy mix of smarts, creativity, and success. Studios Architecture, the San Francisco-based firm he hired, had an international reputation for just this kind of high-end, high-concept work. Even from a distance, the SGI complex looks playful. Driving toward it, heading east on Shoreline Boulevard from Route 101, you see huge, primary-colored blocks poking up through the treetops like toys for the children of giants. The blocks turn out to be the elevator towers of the site’s four interconnected buildings, which, combined, are a dynamic mixture of curving glass walls, fluid wooden shapes, and vivid squares of purple, blue, red, yellow, and green. Next to a five-acre public park that SGI elegantly landscaped as part of its deal with the local municipality, the campus itself is virtually unscarred by blacktop; a 400,000-square-foot garage, hidden underneath, can accommodate 1,100 cars. Between the buildings, a landscaped mall surrounds a stone terrace, where employees can lunch under a huge wooden trellis. A volleyball net stretches over a sandpit, and racks of brightly painted three-speed bikes are free for employees to borrow. A putting green is tucked behind one of the buildings. Inside the SGI buildings, the common spaces are unusual and appealing. At the complex’s heart is a room dubbed the “cafetorium”: a two-story, glass-walled atrium that serves as the company cafeteria, seating 400, but that can quickly morph into an 800-seat auditorium, complete with a high-tech projection system. At lunchtime it’s packed with what seem to be mostly young men in clothes bearing the SGI logo. On each table, instead of flowers, is a can of Tinker Toys. Like the handy wooden toy blocks, the complex is meant to foster creativity and teamwork. Even the buildings’ interiors, with their exposed ducts, cables, supports, and conduits, look like Tinker Toy constructions. Having arrived in March, the law department is a newcomer to the headquarters, known as Building 40. Its cubicles look just like everyone else’s, which is to say small and undistinguished. While SGI is unstinting with shared amenities and overall architecture, it is, like other high-tech companies, tightfisted with personal space. The square footage allotted to each employee is carefully calibrated to match the space that competitors give to comparable workers, and no more. The lawyers and their support staff (soon to be 26 in all) can be found at the end of a long, dark corridor, toiling in a space so basic that it looks like a warehouse. Their cubicles are formed by six-foot-high dividers, covered in vivid, teal-colored cloth. Says general counsel Sandra Escher: “Our job is to support the norms of the business. We want the clients to feel commonality, at home. The fewer gaps the engineers feel [between them and their legal colleagues], the better.” The windowless cubicle where senior litigation counsel Charlotte Cloud, 45, sits can barely hold her L-shaped desk, file cabinet, bookcase, small table, and two extra chairs. Once she was a county judge with private chambers. Now? “Many people would see that as a step down,” she says. But that kind of “ego-identified” feeling about office space does not apply at SGI, she says. “The look of your office is not something anyone cares about here.” Hierarchy is subtly acknowledged at SGI. A slightly larger cubicle was allotted to Barry Weinert, director of corporate legal services and the senior-most lawyer in the room. (Escher’s 230-foot cubicle is upstairs with those of the other top executives.) Throughout SGI, vice presidents have 175-square foot cubicles, directors 140 square feet, managers 96, staffers between 72 and 85 — depending on the space, and contract workers 50 to 60. But these numbers will shrink, as SGI is about to implement what it calls “densification.” Noise is somewhat of a problem. “There’s a collective knowledge that you gain working in this environment,” Weinert says with a laugh. Cloud, after three months on the job, says she is still getting used to hearing other people’s conversations, and having them hear hers. “I couch how I am depending on who is around,” she admits. And she avoids making personal phone calls. But maintaining privilege — the rallying cry of lawyers fighting for a room of their own — isn’t very hard. “You do have to be careful about what you say and how loudly you say it … but our clients tend to be as careful about it as we are,” says Weinert. Besides, says senior counsel Nathan Anderson-Papillion, “a lot of confidentiality stuff kind of gets overplayed; most of what comes out of a client’s mouth doesn’t need to be protected.” Conference rooms are available for particularly confidential conversations. At night, Weinert locks up sensitive files. But because only law department staff work in the room, and because everyone needs a security badge to get in, the lawyers say they are fairly relaxed about “stuff that would not threaten SGI’s existence if it were seen.” Private offices may even make in-house lawyers’ jobs harder, argues Anderson-Papillion. While “enclosed offices still carry a certain cachet … you can cloak yourself in so many badges of authority that people don’t want to talk to you. My experience has been that when you’re more approachable, the client tells you more, and then you’re more useful.” At SGI, the lawyers pride themselves on being almost seamlessly integrated into the business teams they serve. Says Escher: “We’re really with the program here.” TRADITION: CINCINNATI’S CONVERGYS Hierarchy is unabashedly expressed by the architecture at downtown Cincinnati’s Convergys Corporation, which had 1999 revenues of $1.76 billion from outsourced billing and customer care services sold to clients such as AT&T Corp., Telewest Communications, and Deutsche Telekom AG. So, too, are the good old-fashioned notions that attorneys need privacy and that a law department should be centralized. Going to see William Baskett III, Convergys’ executive vice president and general counsel, means entering a big, bland, 1980s-style white concrete building. But step off the elevator onto the nineteenth floor, and you’ll find an elegantly appointed aerie with a reception area drenched in natural light and dominated by a sweeping staircase. Climb that flight to reach the executive floor: the sky-lit top of the building that houses four of the company’s top officers, the 61-year-old Baskett among them. (Because Baskett is also among the top five earners at Convergys, his 1999 salary package is public: $445,000 in cash compensation made him 180th on Corporate Counsel‘s GC Salary Survey. Baskett also holds exercisable options worth nearly $4 million.) Convergys chief executive officer James Orr had been with Cincinnati Bell Telephone Co. when Convergys was created from two of its subsidiaries in 1998, and so was well placed to build himself a handsome domain when the new company was spun off. Although the space is only leased, one of the first things done by the architectural firm that Orr hired, Terry-DeRees Associates, Inc., was to cut three skylights into the building’s roof. Today, the sun-filled hallways and offices of the twentieth floor are adorned by antiques and a stunning collection of museum-quality paintings, many by artists who worked in Cincinnati, including Jim Dine, Frank Duveneck, Henry Mosler, Paul Sawyier, William Sonntag, and A.H. Wyant. (Convergys retains a consultant to help build this collection.) In addition to the executives’ offices, the floor has a large boardroom overlooking the Ohio River that is furnished with a custom-made mahogany veneer table, a sleek video-teleconferencing room with its own custom-made mahogany table, and a variety of sitting rooms that could easily fit in any one of the nation’s toniest private clubs. (The project ate 49,000 board feet of solid mahogany and 36,000 square feet of mahogany veneer, sent by air freight from Honduras.) In other words, although no one will disclose costs, the place screams “expensive.” Says architect Jim Terry: “We don’t do many of these anymore.” In one corner of this paradise, Baskett’s 500-square-foot office overlooks the city’s new football stadium and the river. He works at his highly polished mahogany desk (an assistant pointedly supplies a rubber coaster when bringing a bottle of water for a guest). Or he can work at a round table with several chairs that looks out onto his private terrace, complete with potted plants, teak bench, and chairs. If Baskett has a lot of visitors and it’s too windy to entertain them on the terrace, he can adjourn to a conference table that seats 10. Light spills into the suite through floor-to-ceiling windows. In fact, even his private closet has a window — “the height of extravagance,” says Baskett with a self-mocking laugh. Baskett became GC of Cincinnati Bell in 1993 but remained a partner at Cincinnati’s Frost & Jacobs and worked out of the firm’s offices, a block away from the current Convergys headquarters. It wasn’t until he left the firm and joined the staff full time in 1998 that he really noticed what he calls the “cubbyholes” where his lawyers were working. “I was pretty disappointed with the way [the lawyers] were housed and the facilities,” he says. Perhaps more importantly, he thought the lawyers’ work was suffering because they were sitting in the two operating subsidiaries they served, Cincinnati Bell Information Systems Inc. and MATRIXX Marketing Inc. (together, these had become Convergys). Many GCs are now, to use the term of art, “co-locating” their lawyers with the clients they serve. But Baskett feels that housing lawyers within the business units left Convergys’ lawyers isolated from their legal brethren and exposed to undue pressure from sales staff to get deals done quickly. Sometimes the attorneys ceded too much. “If lawyers don’t have support,” says Baskett, “they may yield” to the inadvisable. Before the move, some of the lawyers also worked in cubicles. Baskett was adamant that each of his seven lawyers have a private office. In the old space, confidentiality was a problem, he says. The assistant secretary to the board, for example, sat in a cubicle where her phone conversations could easily be overheard. “She deals on an almost daily basis with the directors,” Baskett explains. “It was a matter of enormous concern.” Baskett decided to bring his staff together in new offices, each 225 square feet, on the eighteenth floor (two newly hired attorneys will soon be joining them). And he believes that the quality of their legal advice has improved as a result. His goal is to have all of the lawyers understand both of the businesses — billing and customer care — “intimately.” Centralizing the law department has helped. “Now they have the benefit of their colleagues to ask questions [of] and give advice to each other,” he says. “That’s kind of the law firm mode, and the eighteenth floor looks like a law firm.” Visiting the lawyers’ quarters requires getting through two sets of locked doors. Card keys are held only by the lawyers and a select number of the business people that they serve. Just inside the doors, however, a banner pinned to the wall proclaims: “The Convergys Legal Team Welcomes You!” The department’s main conference room is near the entranceway so that outsiders don’t have to walk past offices, where they might overhear confidential information. The restrooms are nearby, too, so a trip to the bathroom will not take visitors past work areas. “That second set of security doors could send the wrong message, but for the fact that we’re accessible,” says William Hawkins, associate general counsel and Baskett’s designated heir. Hawkins says that he mostly goes out to visit clients in their offices, so they are not likely to be put off by security in the law department. But he also feels that the security measures send the message that the lawyers are very serious about protecting the “highly confidential and highly proprietary materials” they handle. “The physical plant,” he says, “is designed to encourage and reinforce this idea.” COMPROMISE: SPRINT CORPORATION’S LOBBYING OFFICE IN WASHINGTON, D.C. The offices that Kansas City, Mo.’s Sprint Corporation recently opened for its 22 lawyers and lobbyists in Washington, D.C., are a model of compromise: They project Sprint’s high-tech image while catering to the lawyers’ traditional tastes, give the attorneys their own offices while placating shared-space concerns, and create a sense of grandness while saving money. But, like all great compromises, the result can sometimes be a bit strained. Sprint’s D.C. legal team, headed by senior vice president for federal external affairs Vonya McCann, was originally at 1850 M Street, NW — within arm-twisting distance of the Federal Communications Commission. But when the FCC moved in 1999 to a self-contained monolith called The Portals in the city’s southwest quadrant (where there are few private office buildings), Sprint began to shop for new space. It moved to 401 9th Street, NW, in January 2000. This brand-new building is a narrow, block-long tower with a light-filled entrance atrium rising to the fourth floor. Sprint leased most of that fourth floor and lavished more of the drama and money on spaces that the public might see: the reception area, off of which are a boardroom, a library, and a video teleconferencing room. Because the company also planned to use the boardroom for meetings with outsiders, such as FCC administrators and representatives from other phone companies, it invested in costly ($2,000-$3,000 each) pivot doors, which swing around a central point rather than from an exterior edge, so that the boardroom’s entire back wall could be opened. These polished wooden doors give the room a modern, sophisticated look. Rich yellow-orange paint on the walls makes the space warm and welcoming. The public rooms suggest Sprint’s sales pitch: communication through state-of-the-art technology. Interior design firm VOA Associates Incorporated strung 13 metal cables along the ceiling through the elevator lobby to the wall behind the reception desk. On the wall behind the receptionist, the Sprint logo shines in a bluish light. A futuristic black phone sitting on a side table in the reception area and black leather upholstery throughout the offices complete the high-tech look. While eye-catching, some of the office’s features upon second glance seem a bit flimsy and stagy. Colorful wall-sized abstract collages in the hallways already are showing some wear and tear. Floating planes built near the ceiling to break up the space look as though a theater crew could come and disassemble them any minute. Architect John O’Dowd says workplace design is only meant to last as long as the company’s lease on the space; in this case, that’s 10 years. Sprint deferred to the lawyers’ sensibilities by giving them hard-walled offices. The support staff got cubicles. Yet, even in the midst of this traditional allocation of space, a few concessions were made to the new theories of workplace design. A narrow floor-to-ceiling window running alongside office doors lets passersby see who’s inside (a feature some of the lawyers don’t appreciate). And, in a nod to the new thinking on the importance of shared space, the hallways, not the private offices, got the views into the grand interior atrium. To save money, the lawyers kept the dark-wood-finish desks, chairs, and cabinets from their former offices. Also reused: the “systems furniture,” those modular dividers and desks that make the cubicles. To inexpensively update these dividers, and give them a more modern look befitting a telecommunications company, the design firm randomly replaced some of their darkly finished wood tiles, which cover the cubicles’ outer walls, with lighter-finish wood tiles. Other cost-cutting measures include highly waxed black paint (looks like stone) on the walls in the elevator lobby; fake metal tables in the hallways (they’re wood underneath); and a mixture of original artwork and attractively framed reproductions in the hallways. Ironically, the office’s small library was built not for research needs but to deal with a space problem: a long stretch of exterior wall without windows. The bookshelves, perpendicular to the wall and each slightly longer than the next, create a graceful crescent shape. The lawyers say that the library is not the first place they look for information. But the architect points out that the books do serve a purpose: They suggest that this is a place where lawyers toil.
Breaking In and Making It In-House. January 17-30.

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