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Modern art or sports memorabilia? Flashy or subdued? High-tech or low-tech? Plaque with firm logo or not? Many firms seek to attract a particular type of client. Those that have the time, opportunity and resources may take the extra step of ensuring that their offices’ interiors comport with the expectations of their targeted clientele. The examples presented by three very different firms that have recently remodeled their offices following moves underscore how individualized a law firm’s interior design scheme can be. From the common area at the One Liberty Place offices in Philadelphia of plaintiffs firm Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky, visitors can see memorabilia from local sports teams, bright-colored art featuring rock stars and, lining the walls all around, steel plates with rivets that reflect the construction work in which many of the firm’s clients are involved. “We’ve really made our mark and concentrated our practice in the construction and workplace arena, and the design pays homage to that,” said Robert Mongeluzzi. “It’s a very structural look, a very constructive look.” For McKissock & Hoffman — which focuses mainly on commercial litigation and medical and legal malpractice defense — the key was to look tasteful without appearing to have spent extravagantly. “I don’t want bling,” said name partner Peter Hoffman. And for IP boutique Volpe & Koenig, it’s not so important how the waiting room looks — it’s the hardware in the conference rooms that they really need to worry about. “You’d better have a full complement of Internet access with enough room for 30 laptops [in each conference room],” said Randy Huis, who helped oversee Volpe & Koenig’s redesign after a 2003 move. “It’s just expected; it’s not even a question.” MOVING UP For Saltz Mongeluzzi, the move earlier this year from parts of One Liberty’s sixth and 34th floors to the whole of the 52nd floor is indicative of growth in size and in stature. About 10 years ago, Mongeluzzi said, the firm had six attorneys. Now, with of counsels included, they have 20. “In the last six years, the numbers in our firm have increased dramatically, in terms of both attorneys, staff and caseload,” he said. While the growth of many of Philadelphia’s premier plaintiffs firms can be attributed to medical malpractice cases, Saltz Mongeluzzi has climbed its way to the top of the heap by focusing on construction and workplace-related injury cases. “Certainly, I think our notoriety has come from construction,” Mongeluzzi said. “That’s what we’re known for.” That all began, according to Mongeluzzi, in 1983, when he found himself handling three crane electrocution cases at the same time. “I still do more electrical accidents than most attorneys,” he said, “along with burn cases, cranes and aerial lifts. … They take a lot more time and a lot more effort, but they have been rewarding.” When the firm got too big for its previous location, and first considered taking out a lease on a whole floor, it thought of opting for the Cira Centre and its attendant tax break, but ultimately decided to move up within One Liberty. The 52nd floor offers spectacular views in every direction. The first things Mongeluzzi and his partners noticed about their new location were the structural beams — the 52nd is the first floor in One Liberty at which the building angles inward. But rather than choose to hide the beams somehow, the firm saw a chance to let its new space’s interior design motif reflect the type of work that so many of its clients are involved in. And so the structural aura of the beams was heightened by the addition of the steel plates and rivets. And when interior design consultants suggested that the firm focus its main entrance area’s decoration on modern art pieces, the firm’s leaders wanted something more, knowing that that probably wouldn’t appeal to the vast majority of its clients. And so, the main conference room adjacent to the waiting area features a gigantic Phillies banner that reads “1980 World Champions” (the actual championship banner, purchased at auction, that was presented to the team by the league, Mongeluzzi notes) and an Eagles football helmet with the signatures of last year’s NFC Championship team. Mongeluzzi and his lawyers refer to that glass-enclosed conference space as the “Champions’ Room.” “We represent a lot of working-class, blue-collar workers, and they are drawn to that area,” Mongeluzzi said. Mongeluzzi acknowledges that workplace litigation is the foundation on which his firm has been built — its reputation in that field, he believes, has helped its med mal and auto accident practices grow. It’s also led to increased referrals in those and other areas, he said. The firm knows what type of client brings in its bread and butter, and is not afraid to advertise that fact. “Med mal cases are so difficult theses days because of all the negative media,” Mongeluzzi said. “When you represent construction workers, people think good things: patriotic, hardworking, loyal.” MAKING THE RIGHT STATEMENT McKissock & Hoffman, which moved to 1700 Market from another building on that street in late winter 2003, appointed a committee of four or five partners to oversee interior design and renovation of its new space. Hoffman said that most of the clients that come through the office are doctors, lawyers, and occasionally representatives of hospitals and other corporations. In designing its new space, Hoffman said, “we decided that the main things were: how much it would cost, and what we were going to be showing to the public.” “I don’t think any client wants to see that you’re doing too well; that you’re spending too much,” he said. Twenty or 30 years ago, even the oldest and most austere defense firms were willing to showcase their financial prowess via interior design, Hoffman notes. Art that even the layperson would recognize as high-priced, extensive glass and wood libraries and other extravagances were all once typical of the main entrance area and its immediate vicinity. But clients started complaining about the presence of such niceties, and as the excess of the 1980s transitioned to the recession of the early 1990s, firms began to get rid of them. “In the ’80s, you wanted to make that ‘I have arrived’ statement,” Hoffman said. “Nobody cares about that anymore.” Even taking the subdued approach, the expenses on features that most visitors would probably not notice can rack up. Two years ago, McKissock & Hoffman took one look at its new space and realized it would have to redo the ceilings. “We spent a fortune on the ceilings, because you don’t want them looking like a train tunnel,” Hoffman said. The firm also spent heavily on lighting, recognizing that making all the nooks and crannies in the public spaces well lit would be an expensive undertaking. “What we didn’t do was spend a lot of money on art,” Hoffman said. “We have virtually no art in the hallways.” And, unlike many firms, McKissock & Hoffman chose not to have the firm’s name up on the wall behind the desk of the main entrance’s receptionist. “You’re trying to make the right statement,” Hoffman said. TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY Does an IP firm feel pressure to show that it keeps up with latest technological advances? In a word, yes, says Volpe & Koenig partner Huis. When the firm moved in mid-2003 from 1617 JFK Blvd. to the United Plaza building on South 17th Street, they did put some thought into having the main area design reflect the firm’s specialty. To that end, the walls surrounding reception area have pictures of old patent documents. But of the utmost import was making sure that the office’s various conference rooms have “all the things that people would expect from a firm that deals with technology,” Huis said. That means digital projectors, portals offering Internet access for as many laptops as can fit in the room, and the like. The firm is currently installing video conferencing, Huis said. Increasingly, he noted, clients located in Japan or Germany want to feel like they’re in the room with whomever they’re speaking to. “It’s kind of being client-driven to accommodate their expectations of our being up with all the latest,” Huis said of the firm’s constant technological upgrading. Privacy was also a major concern in designing the new office space, he said, given the sensitive nature of much of the work the firm deals with. The conference rooms are soundproofed, and the waiting rooms were arranged in such a way that visitors could not “traipse” back into the lawyers’ offices areas and accidentally see what other client has come into the office and what they’ve brought with them during their visit. “What would somebody think if they’ve got the next cancer-curing drug out [on their attorney's table] and somebody else walks by?” Huis asked. “What comfort level does that give them?”

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