The corner office. For many, it has symbolized the pinnacle of success in a law firm. Yet, some would argue, the corner office also represents an outdated and impractical approach to managing one of a law firm’s most expensive and important resources — space. When our firm — Best Best & Krieger — set out to find innovative ways to address real estate costs and usage across our nine offices, we developed a plan that we believe eliminates wasted space, decreases expenses and, in many cases, does away with the corner office. What we gained was a creative way to provide our attorneys, staff and clients with comfortable, efficient office space while improving our bottom line. The process was professionally rewarding, and surprisingly, not as difficult as some might expect.
When I joined BB&K in 2009, one of my first objectives was to address the firm’s real estate use and create a strategy for the future. At that time, the firm had eight offices throughout California (we have since added a ninth office in Washington, D.C.). An audit of each office revealed little consistency in terms of design, real estate brokers, architects and general contractors. Each office was very much a reflection of the local market (which can have benefits), but it resulted in a disjointed firmwide real estate approach. With the opportunity to address seven leases within the coming 24 months, the time was perfect to create a new real estate strategy.
I knew an experienced real estate broker was a critical player in establishing a new strategy. After interviewing several, we selected the one whose experience and input proved to be invaluable; he was my “right hand” on every real estate move we made. We also knew a single architectural firm could help develop a vision for our spaces, implementing consistent design standards with the flexibility required to bring forth the culture of each office while living within the restrictions of each space. Later, we added a single project management team to help supervise construction and a single furniture vendor. This team approach also increased our buying power. By negotiating our leases and designing and furnishing our offices on a firmwide basis, we gained economies of scale.
Working with BB&K’s executive committee, we determined that our real estate strategy should incorporate three key goals into each office: establish a 500 square-foot ratio per attorney (down from approximately 800 square feet); establish consistency in terms of look and feel, especially in the lobbies (“You should know when you’re in a BB&K office”); and incorporate the concept of “hoteling” with consistent amenities, furnishings and technology. With nearly 200 attorneys, many of whom often travel to other firm offices, we wanted to ensure that an attorney could work seamlessly from anywhere. Our new hoteling space includes traditional and “soft” seating in an open area. Several attorneys can work together in one space or use small, quiet areas when they need privacy. This practice has eliminated the need to set aside private offices for visitors who may never come.
We quickly identified that, for some offices and practices, an open-plan concept could provide a multitude of benefits. Such a design provides for open areas where attorneys and staff work side by side, encouraging collaboration. These spaces rely upon natural light and glass to increase the open feel and provide energy that can be zapped in closed, dark spaces. An open, collaborative design decreases the need for private offices, which were moved to the interior for use when attorneys needed a quiet space or to hold a private meeting. This also freed up the window line to be used for more common area space.
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