Five must-dos when designing a law firm workplace

Law firms are placing ever-increasing importance on thoughtful workplace design to attract and retain top talent, making every office build-out or renovation a critical opportunity to win the talent war. With millennials expected to comprise 75 percent of the workforce by 2030, law firm design trends are being driven by an evolving culture that prioritises individual workplace experiences, health and well-being and ubiquitous technology.

The future of law firm design is rooted in change. Designers are not just designers anymore—they’re change management consultants. Architects and contractors often work with law firms’ human resources teams, facilities managers and the lawyers themselves to align the existing workforce culture with a realistic design approach. In doing so, five considerations are typically front-of-mind, if not mandatory.

1. Recruitment & Retention of the Next Attorney Generation

Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come (or stay), and one size does not fit all. It boils down to getting to know your people, recognising the culture and understanding the aspirations of young attorneys moving up in the workplace before applying something across the board.

For example, the idea behind open office workstations for attorneys is rooted in thoughtful cost reduction, however there are many factors that influence whether that may or may not work, including the ever-present client confidentiality factor (both from an acoustical standpoint and from a visual standpoint) and requisite privacy.

Junior-level attorneys still view the location and size of their office, and migrating from a smaller to a larger office, as a reflection of professional progress. They aspire to the highly coveted “corner office” or larger office. It seems that private offices, whether varied in size or a universal size, are a permanent fixture in law firms for myriad reasons.

A modern alternative to open officing that promotes connectedness and increases workforce facetime is the increasing application of an intercommunicating stair. Rather than a library, additional secretarial space or mock trial rooms, law firms installing a communicating stair between floors are attempting to align themselves with the collaborative nature of tech firms and corporate HQs.

2. The Workplace Experience for the Individual

While the value proposition of a dedicated private office is still strong in law firms, attorneys appreciate having choices or offices available to them outside of the four walls of their office. If the technology is available to support them, attorneys are placing more value on breakaway spaces in which to work in a collaborative setting or in an environment that is still solitary but in a different footprint, such as a comfortable-yet-functional indoor “lounge” space or outdoor space for mild weather. It has become necessary to provide law firm attorneys and staff with options to show consideration of the individual workplace experience.

Given the tremendous pressure placed on attorneys to maximise billable hours, the more opportunities they are given to leave their desks, work solitarily in a different room surrounded by something different on the wall or a different colour, with different acoustics or even meet in a small room or hang out in the café, the better.

3. Health & Well-being in a Demanding Workplace

Wellness is paramount for overworked law firm attorneys and staff. While the legal industry has historically been a slow adopter of modern office trends, it’s taking a step forward in wellness. Law firms are showing greater sensitivity to nutrition through a fresh market kind of approach, offering fruit, yogurt and different water options as opposed to soda and candy bars in vending machines. Many new law firm offices feature yoga and retreat rooms, which are only starting to be featured in other markets.

Perhaps most significantly, many law firms are creating a director of well-being role, charged with cultivating a healthy work environment and helping drive work life balance initiatives. Well known for their long hours and the struggle to maintain work life balance, law firms, beginning with office design decisions, must adopt more sensitive and thoughtful initiatives that contribute to the well-being of their people. This will help to avoid the increased trend of younger associates burning out and leaving the industry for good.

4. The Power of Ubiquitous Tech

In order to achieve work-life balance, law firms must create and follow through on work-remote policies. To successfully support such a policy, firms need a strong technology infrastructure. Ubiquitous technology is the idea that attorneys and law firm staff can be technologically supported both internally in the workplace and externally outside of the office.

Although client confidentiality concerns preclude certain platforms and technologies from being stored on the cloud, ubiquitous technology holds law firms accountable to make investments on speedy infrastructure previously limited due to operational cost controls.

In 2005, large law firms invested in technology in their conference centres, but not on the work floor. Now they are spending more throughout their spaces on AV because it’s critical to their business. Tenant workplace investment has shifted away from high-end finishes, millwork and stone to greater investment in technology and glass facades that introduce light to the interior desks sitting just outside of the perimeter office landscape.

This shift over the past 10 to 15 years means technology infrastructure improvements now represent 40 to 45 percent of the tenant improvement factor. Response time, client accommodation, speed and access are so paramount to the business that without this reallocation of investment, law firms will fall drastically behind.

5. Future-Proof Updates

Future-proofing a law firm is more possible than ever, but it requires clients to spend a great deal of time planning and analysing what role the workplace will need to serve seven to eight years into a lease term. Firms must budget accordingly to accommodate the impact of fool proof flexibility. Potential growth, staff increases, space decreases, infrastructure concerns with shifting technology and future density must all be taken into account to minimise capital expenditure over the lease term.

If possible, companies should utilise a modular approach to allow for inexpensive future changes, budget accordingly and plan for what-if factors. Firms must consider the repercussions of changes; for example, what elements would be costly to move if a wall comes down, such as a sprinkler system, and which are more flexible, such as lighting?

Traditionally, law firms renew office leases in older buildings that contain perimeter private offices and only think about future changes in carpet and paint. But, older buildings are optimal in allowing firms to build out using modules to accommodate future change with minimal impact, maintaining the traditional perimeter-office style and allowing for increased collaboration space in the core.

With the one-attorney-to-one-secretary ratio nearly obsolete, using glass as private office facades to shed light into the interior space is not as important as it was 10 years ago. The next big question in law firm design is: how do you make that interior zone experience as welcoming and desirable as that coveted perimeter?

As law firms prepare for a workforce centred on factors such as connectivity, flexibility and wellness, their workplace must reflect that shifting dynamic and be able to continually evolve. By working with their design and construction teams, firm HR and facilities leadership can create office spaces that reflect their future-focused culture.

Kirkland & Ellis kicks off wellbeing program

Kirkland & Ellis announced this week the creation of a new firmwide wellness program with a new director, part of the ongoing efforts by Big Law to tackle mental health issues that plague the legal profession.

Robin Belleau will be Kirkland & Ellis’ first firmwide director of well-being. A former assistant state’s attorney turned counselor, Belleau officially joined the firm back in March.

She is the former executive director of the Lawyers’ Assistance Program in Illinois and is a member of the advisory commission of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyers’ Assistance Programs.

Kirkland’s new program will proactively work with its attorneys and staff on issues related to mental health and substance misuse and will offer education and enhanced dialogue across three core areas: resilience, connection and fitness and nutrition.

As a part of the program, the firm will host educational courses and seminars on well-being. It will also introduce two well-being apps that aim to support stress reduction, increase resiliency and support individuals in combating substance abuse and other addictive behaviors. The firm will also launch an internal website that will provide its employees with additional resources.

“One of the main goals is to start this conversation and help reduce the stigma around people having mental health issues or substance misuse issues,” Belleau said.

The wellness program will help identify paths to support individuals dealing with substance abuse issues and other mental health concerns rampant in the legal profession like depression, stress or anxiety.

“Kirkland is committed to supporting the well-being of our attorneys. This initiative is something lawyers, particularly younger lawyers and law students, throughout the legal community are asking of their law firms,” said chairman of Kirkland’s global management executive committee Jeffrey C. Hammes in a statement.

“We are embracing the call for a more open and transparent dialog about mental health within our profession, and believe this program will become an important part of our culture,” he added.

Kirkland’s new program is just the latest initiative offered by law firms to help their attorneys and staff deal with the pressures within the profession. Earlier this year, Morgan Lewis & Bockius launched a new initiative “ML Well” and added its first-ever director of employee well-being. Reed Smith launched a firmwide program “Wellness Works” to support the health and well-being of its lawyers and staff.

And in addition to its “Be Well” program, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld added an on-site counselor to its Washington office to provide therapy sessions its attorneys one day a week. Hogan Lovells has had on-site psychologists available at some of its offices for several years.

According to a 2016 American Bar Association study of lawyers, 28 percent dealt with depression and 19 percent dealt with anxiety. Between 21 and 36 percent were “problem drinkers.”

“People want to work on their mental health,” Belleau said. “Even though there’s still stigma attached to issues, its moving along the spectrum.”

Jehan Crump-Gibson

New powerhouse law firm opens in metro Detroit

Jehan Crump-Gibson and Ayanna Alcendor have joined forces to create the powerhouse law firm Great Lakes Legal Group PLLC in metro Detroit. The minority women-owned law firm was launched at the beginning of 2018, and will offer one-stop-shop service to a range of clients.

Crump-Gibson comes with a plethora of experience, as she’s been recognised three times by the Michigan Super Lawyers Magazine as a rising star. After earning dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and english from Michigan State University, Crump-Gibson then went on to earn her juris doctorate from Wayne State University Law School. Post law school, Crump-Gibson opened up her very own law firm, C&G Solutions, for a while before joining forces with Alcendor. She received the 2015 and 2016 Martindale Hubbell ® Client Distinction Award and was recognised as one of Michigan Chronicle’s ’40 under 40’. United States Senator Gary Peters appointed Crump-Gibson to the Michigan Senate Judicial Advisory Committee in 2017 and she was admitted to practice law in Michigan and before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Alcendor also comes with an abundance of experience as well. Having received her Juris doctorate degree from Western Michigan Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2013, Alcendor actually interned at C&G Solutions, Crump-Gibson’s law firm. She also interned at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan with Judge Mark A. Randon, the state appellate defender’s office, the Wayne County prosecutor’s office and a number of area boutique firms as well. At Ernst & Young, she served as a client servicing associate in the Detroit office. Alcendor also founded her own practice, Allied Legal Consulting, PLC., before teaming up with Crump-Gibson.

We had the opportunity to speak with these two dynamic women about the inspiration for launching their own firm in metro Detroit. We discussed the services that their new firm will specialise in and we also touched on the unique skillsets they collectively bring to the firm as a team. Check out the interview below and drop a line or two in the comments section to let us know what you think about this minority women-owned law firm.

What was the inspiration for launching a minority women-owned law firm?

You have to be the change you want to see. This is why we thought it was so important to start the firm. Minority women continue to be underrepresented in equity positions in law firms and the legal field as a whole. A minority-woman owned law firm like Great Lakes Legal Group is uniquely positioned to aid in the ongoing efforts to address this disparity. Minority women serving in such critical leadership roles are integral in diversifying the legal profession. In turn, this diversification has a direct impact on the communities we serve.

With these roles, we have a responsibility. As important as it is to command a seat at the table, you have to leave the door open to the room for those to come in behind you. We do this by continuing to feed the pipeline. Recruiting talented young women of color and providing opportunities for exposure to young women in firms’ aids in augmenting representation in the industry. We are fully committed to these efforts at Great Lakes.

About Great Lakes Legal Group PLLC

There, you will find detailed information about the owners’ backgrounds, the services we offer and the areas we serve. You can also sign up for our newsletter on the home page to stay connected with us. We are on social media as well: Instagram: @gllegalgroup and Twitter: @gllegalgroup. If you need more information, please visit our website http://www.gllegalgroup.com/

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Chris Hanslik Begins Term as Chairman of SEARCH Homeless Services

Chris Hanslik became Chair of SEARCH Homeless Services on July 1, after serving on the board of directors and on various committees since 2010.

“Homelessness hurts. So many in our community live on the streets or in shelters,” said Chris. “SEARCH and our community partners have accomplished a great deal, and while we believe a Houston without homelessness is achievable, there is still work to be done.”

Each year, SEARCH Homeless Services helps thousands of individuals and families move from the streets into jobs and safe, stable homes through many services and support programs.

“SEARCH is an organization that captures my passion for helping others and giving back because we are making a difference in improving our community and individual lives,” said Hanslik. “As clients move into homes, we also support them with programs to help them become job ready and gain employment. It’s transformative.”

SEARCH services go beyond meeting basic needs to ensuring that clients obtain permanent housing, increase their income, and live a more healthful life. Once clients are placed in a stable home, SEARCH provides extensive case management and support services to help them stabilize their lives in order to remain housed.

“We really work to break the cycle of homelessness,” said Hanslik. “By investing in children and families, SEARCH provides them with a brighter future. I feel very fortunate for our family’s blessings and the opportunities we have been given. So supporting SEARCH is my way of helping to create change and opportunities for others to have a better life.”

About BoyarMiller

BoyarMiller is a mid-size Houston-based law firm that advances client business goals by bringing new possibilities into focus with confidence and clarity to achieve extraordinary outcomes. Since 1990, we have been providing practical and smart business solutions. Our firm is comprised of two practice groups—business law and litigation—and we serve multinational companies, middle-market businesses and entrepreneurs in need of collaborative and strategic representation. See https://www.boyarmiller.com/ for more information.

About SEARCH Homeless Services

SEARCH pursues a mission of providing hope, creating opportunity, and transforming lives of men, women, and children who are trying to break free from the cycle of poverty and homelessness. We bring this mission to life every day by helping our clients obtain permanent housing, increase their income, improve their health, develop their children, and ultimately achieve independence. For more information, visit https://www.searchhomeless.org/.

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DLA Piper Africa claims top spot in M&A for Africa

For the first time, DLA Piper also claimed the top spot on the Mergermarket league table for M&A (based on deal count) in Africa, it added.

According to Mergermarket, the company has advised 43 deals in the Middle East and Africa combined and 30 deals in Africa alone. The company also ranked high in the Mergermarket league tables in a number of regions around the world, including:

  • 1 Global Deal Count (671)
  • 1 Europe Deal Count (411)
  • 3 US Deal Count (296)
  • 1 Nordics Deal Count (131)
  • 1 UK Deal Count (128)
  • 1 Denmark Deal Count (63)
  • 1 France Deal Count (56)
  • 1 the Middle East & Africa Deal Count (43)
  • 1 Africa Deal Count (30)
  • 1 Russia Deal Count (9)

Johannes Gouws, director and managing partner at DLA Piper in South Africa, said, “We are delighted to be ranked number one for deal count in Africa for the first time. It shows that our M&A strategy in Africa is starting to deliver the results we are aiming for.”

“With 20 DLA Piper and DLA Piper Africa offices in countries right across Africa, and numerous other Africa-specialists from financial markets across the globe, there really is no other law firm that can match our M&A offering on the African Continent,” he added.

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Staying in the technology race, avoiding protectionist pitfalls

It is vital for law firms and in house counsel that they are at the forefront when advising on the specifics and legalities of the technology supply chain, which increasingly relies on mining raw materials for use within the manufacturing process of ‘smart’ products. However, an acute awareness of the barriers is also essential.

As such, Gowling WLG’s Protectionism 2.0 Report highlights how protectionist domestic policies from country to country can stifle the commercial overseas collaboration opportunities that technology offers.

Given the increase in protectionist policies, and the inherent link that exists between these and mining essential raw materials, it has never been more important that in house teams work closely with their advisers to anticipate market changes and implement strategies to manoeuvre through what can be difficult events and circumstances.

What is becoming evident, as set out in the report, is that there is a startling correlation between countries that pursue digitally protectionist policies (laws that prevent the overseas collaboration that is needed for technology to properly develop) as well those that are protectionist in relation to their natural resources – in particular China, Russia, India, Vietnam, Argentina and Turkey – six key global players in both areas of the economy. Given that countries like these are the very same which house the essential raw materials that need to be mined to fuel the development of technology, it is crucial to understand how to anticipate the impact of such behaviour on the technology supply chain.

General Counsel could be forgiven for focusing more on the operational and trading aspects relating to the existing uncertainty surrounding Brexit and global trade – and simply seeing digital protectionism as a side-line issue to focus on at a later date. This would be a mistake, given that these measures pose as much a threat to international trade and development as the more traditional tools of trade protectionism that seem to be most in focus at present.

Not only do the identified countries above have a strong track record in imposing trade barriers and tariffs on imports, they also have a high number of restrictive data laws and large deposits of the vital raw materials needed to make smartphones, connected devices and batteries for electric vehicles.

While this is happening in real time, many technology focused brands – focused on the manufacturing side of the industry – may not yet have anticipated how this will affect their sourcing and subsequent supply chain partners and processes. This makes it even more important that General Counsel communicate the effect of this on the output of their businesses in order to assist internal relationships or indeed, using the foresight of their selected legal advisers.