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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.”

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Rechtsanwälte GRP Rainer

Criteria for Assessing Whether GmbH Managing Directors are Subject to Mandatory Social Security Contributions

According to a decision of the Bundessozialgericht, Germany’s federal court of appeals for social security matters, GmbH managing directors are ordinarily deemed to be employees of the company and hence subject to mandatory social security contributions.

It is not uncommon for disputes to arise over whether GmbH managing directors are subject to mandatory social security contributions. We at the commercial law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte note that it can prove to be a costly affair for the company if it is determined that the managing director is subject to mandatary social security contributions but no payments have been made to this end and therefore supplementary contributions become payable.

In rulings from 14 March 2018, the Bundessozialgericht set out clear criteria for assessing whether GmbH managing directors are subject to mandatory social security contributions (Az.: B 12 KR 13/17 R and B 12 R 5/16 R). According to these judgments, the managing director of a GmbH is ordinarily deemed to be an employee of the company. The Court held that they are only considered not to be employees if they own more than 50 per cent of the company’s share capital and are thus majority shareholders. The Court went on to state that if they have a 50 per cent stake in the share capital, a presumption in favour of self-employed status is then only possible if the articles of association clearly confer a full blocking minority on the managing director and this enables him or her to prevent instructions from being issued by the general meeting of the shareholders. The Court therefore concluded that the decisive factor for the managing director’s status as self-employed is whether he or she has the legal power to determine the fate of the company by influencing the general meeting of the shareholders.

In doing so, the Bundessozialgericht has set high standards for recognizing managing directors as self-employed. It also made clear that the crucial factor in assessing whether the managing director is an employee and thus subject to mandatory social security contributions is not how he or she acts in relation to third parties. Even if he or she is granted broad powers and freedoms, this alone does not indicate that they are self-employed. Instead, it is the extent to which the managing director has recourse to legally enforceable measures for the purposes of influencing resolutions of the general meeting of the shareholders that is the key factor.

Companies should keep in mind the issue of mandatory social security contributions for managing directors as early as when agreements are being drafted in order to avoid unpleasant surprises at a later date. Lawyers who are experienced in the field of company law can provide companies as well as shareholders with expert advice on matters that go beyond mandatory social security contributions.

If you would like to find out more, please visit https://www.grprainer.com/en/legal-advice/company-law.html

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Latham & Watkins LLP hires senior IP litigator

Latham & Watkins LLP has hired Rachel Weiner Cohen as counsel in its litigation and trial department.

Cohen joins Latham and Watkins from WilmerHale where she was counsel. She has extensive experience in both US and international intellectual property disputes.

Her practice ranges from international arbitrations and civil investigations to general commercial litigation.

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Commenting on the move, global co-chair of the intellectual property practice David Callahan said: “We are excited to welcome Rachel Weiner Cohen to Latham’s powerhouse IP team.”

“Her experience complements Latham’s formidable courtroom reputation and ability to navigate clients’ highest-profile patent disputes.”

Office managing partner for Latham and Watkins in Washington DC, Michael Egge, added: “Cohen is well-positioned to help us build on our recent string of major appellate victories.”

“Clients will also benefit from her insight into many of the disruptive technologies at the heart of IP disputes.”

Cohen’s addition to Latham & Watkins LLP follows the recent appointment of senior trial lawyers Tara Elliott, Jamie Underwood and Kevin Wheeler.

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Latham adds leading Mergers & Acquisitions partner in New York

Latham & Watkins LLP is pleased to announce that Jane Greyf has rejoined the firm’s New York office as a partner in the Corporate Department and member of the Mergers & Acquisitions Practice. Greyf’s practice focuses on representing private equity firms and their portfolio companies in leveraged buyouts, private M&A transactions, joint ventures, and growth equity investments. She also advises corporate clients in strategic M&A matters.

Greyf has an extensive track record representing leveraged buyout sponsors, venture capital funds, hedge funds, and other private equity investors and portfolio companies in various acquisitions, dispositions, investments, joint ventures, buyouts, tender offers, co-investments, and leveraged finance transactions. She also advises public and private companies in various corporate and securities law issues, including corporate governance, securities law compliance, and general corporate matters. Her experience spans several industry segments, including energy, general industrials, and technology.

“Jane is an accomplished lawyer who has worked on significant M&A transactions,” said Michèle Penzer, Office Managing Partner of Latham & Watkins in New York. “As the New York office continues to grow in a number of areas, including private equity and strategic M&A, we are thrilled to welcome Jane back to the firm.”

“Jane’s practice is a perfect fit for our corporate ambitions in the US and globally. We are focused on building the premier public M&A and private equity practice around the world, advising major listed companies and the world’s leading private equity firms and their portfolio companies on their complex business and legal needs. Jane’s boardroom experience, commercial approach, and mix of skills strongly support our growth in New York, and her arrival marks another step forward in achieving our goals,” added Marc Jaffe, Global Chair of Latham & Watkins’ Corporate Department.

“We continue to see increased demand and opportunities in all areas of our New York M&A practice with a diversity of clients, both public and private,” said David Allinson, Co-Chair of Latham’s Corporate Department in New York and M&A partner. “Jane’s experience advising on high-stakes M&A adds further depth to our platform.”

“We are delighted to add someone of Jane’s stature to our practice, as we are increasingly working on M&A matters that require substantial support across practice areas and geographies,” said Kathleen Walsh, Global Vice Chair of Latham & Watkins’ Corporate Department. “Jane’s expertise will be of tremendous benefit to our clients not only in New York, but around the globe.”

“I started my career at Latham and I know the culture well. I’ve been excited to watch the firm’s strong growth and the execution of its strategy over the years. I am thrilled to rejoin the team and to be a part of the firm’s continued success in New York and beyond,” said Greyf.

Greyf joins Latham & Watkins from Goodwin Procter in New York. She was an associate in the Corporate Department at Latham & Watkins from 1998 – 2006. She received her JD from Columbia University, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and her BA from New York University.

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DLA Piper Expands in Denmark

DLA Piper’s international expansion has continued apace, following the announcement that the firm is to integrate Danish firm DELACOUR into its global network.

DELACOUR specializes in corporate law, commercial work and litigation, with its addition leaving DLA Piper with over 200 lawyers in Denmark across offices in Copenhagen and Aarhus. The news follows on from the firm’s earlier foray into the Danish market in May 2017, with its addition of LETT. The firm is currently the largest law firm in the Nordic region, with over 800 employees in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

“Both firms hold strong positions in the Danish market. This integration is an obvious strategic and commercial match which brings clients in Denmark unrivalled access to local specialists, as well DLA Piper’s truly global network of lawyers,” said Martin Lavesen, the DLA Piper’s managing partner for Denmark.

Andrew Darwin, the firm’s cochair, added: We have had a longstanding commitment to the Nordics going back almost twenty years and we recognized the opportunity to be the only global law firm with a truly pan-Nordic presence. We achieved that vision when we integrated with LETT in May 2017 and, following a great response from our clients in the region and internationally, our Nordic business has gone from strength to strength. Since entering the Danish market we have seen significant interest from local practitioners and firms in internationalizing and regionalizing their businesses and with the addition of DELACOUR we will continue to be the leading global business law firm in Denmark and the Nordic region.”