Some South Florida law firms no longer are denoting seniority among attorneys with a bigger office and are designing workplaces with more common areas equipped with the latest technology.
Three firms moving their Broward County offices in the next two years are opting for workplaces with same-sized offices for all attorneys from associates to senior partners. They also are opting for a modern look with more glass for natural light and high-tech conference rooms, and some are choosing nontraditional shared-space designs like huddle rooms with couches and coffee tables.
“In a law firm, you probably think stuffy and big shelves of books and things like that. We are trying to create a space that reflects how we think as a business law firm, which is a little bit different than the stuffy atmosphere,” said Thomas Choberka, chief marketing and business development officer at Kelley Kronenberg.
Kelley Kronenberg is moving its headquarters from Plantation where it occupies 34,000 square feet to a new 35,000-square-foot building it’s constructing at 10360 W. State Road 84 in Davie.
Akerman and Berger Singerman are moving their downtown Fort Lauderdale office. Both are at 350 E. Las Olas Blvd. and will move across the street to The Main Las Olas, a 1.4 million-square-foot mixed-use project under construction at 201 E. Las Olas Blvd.
In addition to a 27-story apartment tower, The Main Las Olas will have a 25-story office tower where Akerman will occupy the 17th and 18th floors and Berger Singerman will lease one floor at 25,000 square feet.
“The space is going to be amazing,” said Leslie Miller Tomczak, the Akerman office managing partner. “Going into that new space, our plan is to be consistent with all of the new offices that we have been opening such as Miami and Chicago.”
Akerman’s Miami office moved away from bigger offices for partners and smaller ones for associates to equal-sized offices when it moved two years ago to Brickell City Centre. Its Fort Lauderdale office will have same-sized offices as well — about 140 square feet each.
The other two law firms also are planning the egalitarian approach with Berger Singerman still determining the office size and Kelley Kronenberg planning on 144 square feet.
“We don’t care for back-door politics where somebody is singled out because they are new or because they are a big rainmaker. We want to make it an enjoyable environment for all,” said Heath Eskalyo, principal partner and chief financial officer at Kelley Kronenberg in Plantation.”We don’t have any of that politicking going on.”
The three firms are moving into slightly bigger quarters to accommodate expected growth. Kelley Kronenberg has 130 employees in its Plantation office, and the new office will allow for more than 150. Akerman’s Fort Lauderdale office has 65 spaces for attorneys, and the new home will have 80. Berger Singerman has 30 attorneys in Fort Lauderdale and plans room for about 40.
The moves are about more than growth. The law firms are embracing modernity in both design and technology.
For one, The Main Las Olas office building will have floor-to-ceiling glass exterior walls.
“It’s going to bring in a ton of light,” Tomczak said.
Similarly, Kelley Kronenberg will use solar tubes to add natural light and glass walls for individual attorneys’ offices on hallways, Eskalyo said.
The floors will have a polished concrete look.
“There will be a lot of green space throughout the building of natural plants and some green walls to give it a more homey environment,” Eskalyo said.
The firms are committed to more common areas and technology with Akerman and Berger Singerman still hammering out the details for their moves in fall 2020.
Berger Singerman is collecting a wish list from its employees, who are drawing inspiration from creative designs they have seen elsewhere, whether that would be flexible, multipurpose space or cafes.
In the end, Berger Singerman Fort Lauderdale managing partner James Berger said it’s about selecting what works best for the law firm.
“We looked at one organization that has a cafe built in. We looked at another organization that has collaboration areas kind of like booths in a restaurant, where you can come, everybody can plug in at that station. There’s a screen plugged in. We are looking at these things. A lot of them sound neat and wonderful, and you could absolutely, unequivocally spend every penny you can imagine,” Berger said. ”But you have to pick out the ones you are going to use.”
At a recent meeting of managing partners, opinions were split on the value of collaboration rooms — rarely used or never enough.
“You have to design what works for you,” Berger said.
Kelley Kronenberg, which plans to move in July 2019, has settled on the details for its two-story building.
A 500-square-foot mock courtroom will allow for a secure stream for clients and other attorneys joining remotely. Sessions will be recorded to allow attorneys their performance, Eskalyo said.
Two adjacent first-floor conference rooms can be combined for larger meetings and connected to a cafe for events or larger conferences. A third, 350-square-foot conference room and 144-square-foot huddle rooms are planned.
“More of a living-room feel. You could sit on a very comfortable chair or couch with a coffee table, have a cup of coffee, kick your feet up and brainstorm with your clients or some of your colleagues,” Eskalyo said.
The new office also will have a rooftop for work space, events or just a hangout, Choberka said.
Akerman, too, is planning an event space.
“Akerman has a lot of nonprofit work, and we want to be able to host charitable events for our clients,” Miller Tomczak said. “The idea is that we will be able to do that.”
IN LINE WITH TRENDS
The changes are in line with findings in a study that looked at how South Florida law offices are evolving.
A CBRE Inc. study on Legal Sector Trends in South Florida released in March found shared space like conference rooms and flex space is increasing at the expense of square footage allocated per attorney. Study author Christos Costandinides also found a push to same-sized offices and more amenities like cafes.
The push for change is in part a way for firms to deal with an aging workforce and the need to attract millennials, said Costandinides, a senior research analyst with CBRE in Miami.
At Kelley Kronenberg, the changes are in part a way to cater to millennials on something other than pay.
“Salary for the younger generation is … important, but it certainly is not the No. 1 priority they are looking for when they try to make a decision as to where to have a career,” Eskalyo said. “While they are here, we do want to make it enjoyable for them and comfortable.”
Berger added the changes aren’t just for young attorneys.
“We sometimes blame this on millennials, but all age brackets enjoy more workspace that lends itself to collaboration — getting out from behind your computer and collaborating with the colleagues, the clients in a manner that produces a better result,” he said.