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Want to enhance your firm’s reputation? Consider hanging a few plants in your office — as long as they don’t have drooping leaves. Looking to close that merger? Make sure you’re sitting farthest from the door, but facing it. Need to protect your office from unwelcome energy — say that snarky sixth-year associate who’s after your clients? A Ba-Gua mirror just might do the trick. The ancient Chinese art of placement, known as feng shui (translates to “the wind and the water”), introduced to the United States about 20 years ago, has slowly begun to penetrate the legal world. Like any certified trend, this one is heralded by its own niche consultants. Reiko Nakayama of Campbell, Calif., is one of them. She has been called in to assess the chi, or energy force, of several law firms in New York and California. The first thing Nakayama looks at when consulting for an office is the floor plan and position of employees’ desks in relation to the door. “The entrance is really important in terms of welcoming energy in,” she says. Feng shui philosophy dictates that a desk should not back up against a wall (it blocks the flow of energy); nor should it be too near the doorway (it suggests you leave early — even if you don’t — encouraging your colleagues to think of you as irresponsible). Rounded desks are best for those for whom being creative is paramount; harder edges are for those in moneymaking positions. Plants offer positive energy, unless they’re drooping (which may mean the firm’s fortunes are also on a downslide). Feng shui practitioners use an eight-sided diagram, called a Ba-Gua, as a map for determining which areas in a home or office need to be enhanced. Each side of the Ba-Gua corresponds to a specific attribute, such as wealth, fame, power, and knowledge. Color is another important concept in feng shui. Linda Williams, a feng shui practitioner in Hartsdale, N.Y., suggests that trial attorneys advise their anxious clients to wear blue in court. “All colors have a vibrational frequency,” Williams explains. “Studies have shown that after gazing at the color blue for an extended period of time, the heart and blood rate slows down.” Just how receptive are attorneys, not exactly a breed known for being touchy-feely, to this philosophy? If they have any doubts, they should talk to Vincent Smith, a former partner with New York’s Debevoise & Plimpton. Though he spent 25 years practicing real estate law, Smith was always drawn to the arts. Twelve years ago, Smith learned about feng shui while attending a lecture on design, and was immediately hooked. “Our environment affects us more than we realize,” he says. “Feng shui is all about making positive changes in our environment so we can make positive changes in ourselves.” Smith is now a full-time practitioner of feng shui, and even counts some former law colleagues among his new clients, including Susan Reid, a real estate partner with the San Francisco branch of Seattle’s Preston Gates & Ellis. Three years ago, when Reid was looking at empty office space for the firm in the San Francisco Bay Area, she talked to Smith. “Vincent introduced me to the idea of feng shui,” Reid says. “The idea of making energy flow comfortably made perfect sense to me.” Smith came up with a list of recommendations for how Reid could make the layout of the office more inviting and productive, such as moving the receptionist’s desk so that it could not be seen from the bank of elevators, making the corridors more welcoming, and facing all the attorneys’ desks toward the doors. Today Reid’s corner office with its 15-foot-high windows overlooks San Francisco Bay, but Reid works with her back to the bay. According to feng shui principles, her desk, which is shaped like a trapezoid with gentle curves on all sides, faces the door. And a fountain burbles softly in the background (in feng shui, running water symbolizes wealth and luck). “It definitely keeps me calmer,” she says. “And in this business, that doesn’t always happen.” Donna Cornachio is a free-lance writer in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

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