Mai 07. 2024

'Not Your Father's Law Firm': Big Law Continues to Hone Office Space


Mayer Browns' New York space has a 6,200-square-foot gathering area known as The Hub. The area features a game room with table tennis, billiards and shuffleboard.

What You Need to Know

  • Some of the latest Big Law office designs continue the premium on efficiency and collaboration.
  • Mayer Brown recently completed construction of a 6,200 multipurpose gathering space in New York called The Hub.
  • After 35 years in the same office, Perkins Coie moved its Phoenix staff to a location with about one-third the square footage, but which has a more purposeful, open and scenic aesthetic.

A string of large law firms have unveiled new offices this year that are inspired by the post-Covid emphasis on efficiency and collaboration.

Some of the latest designs from firms like Mayer Brown and Perkins Coie continue an emphasis on gathering and event space, replete with amenities such as pool tables, coffee bars, and music rooms. Indeed, the aesthetic is arguably more social club than a law firm.

“It’s not your father’s law firm space,” noted Jon Van Gorp, managing partner of Mayer Brown, in an interview earlier this spring. Van Gorp was describing the industry in general, and specifically, his firm’s remodeled spaces in New York and Washington, D.C., and additional spaces in Los Angeles and Charlotte, the latter of which boasts a lounging area where employees collect and listen to vinyl.

“We’re trying our best to be giving our people a reason to be coming to the office, and that’s had really good success,” he noted.

Perhaps the jewel of the firm’s New York space is a 6,200-square-foot gathering area known as The Hub, architected and designed by Gensler and completed earlier this year on one of the firm’s four-and-a-half floors at 1221 Avenue of the Americas.

Office managing partner Matthew Ingber described it as an “elegant” but also “relaxed” space where workers can grab breakfast, lunch or just coffee, and that can be used as a banquet hall or lounge area, while converting to a cocktail bar at night. It also features a game room with table tennis, billiards and shuffleboard.

Ingber said the firm wanted a place to facilitate both planned and chance encounters, so the choice to have a barista rather than coffee machines, for example, was an intentional, personal touch. Topics of conversation might include today’s work, last night’s Knicks game, or something in between.

“Most of all we just wanted to get people together, so when we’re in The Hub now at any time of day, we see informal meetings happening with clients, with colleagues,” Ingber said. “There’s been interviews of lateral candidates happening in The Hub. I saw a colleague of mine playing pool with a lateral candidate the other day. It’s just a different, more relaxed way of communicating.”

Ingber noted Mayer Brown’s attendance policy requires three days per week in the office. He said in New York, compliance is pretty good, and “plenty” of people are in five days per week.

But The Hub wasn’t really a carrot to get people to come back to the office after the pandemic, he said, adding he personally believes that being in the office is better for individuals and better for the firm as a whole, and that “physical space is a really important part of that.”

He also said having raised two kids who are now college-age, he’s seen how younger generations like to work.

“The fact is, not everybody needs to be sitting at a desk in front of a monitor to be productive and happy,” Ingber said.

Office Tech Spending

The Latest Law Firm Financial Index report from Thomson Reuters perhaps pointed to another trend that touches on office space. While overhead expenses continued to cool during the first part of 2024, tech spending remains especially hot. Taking inflation into account, law firms are investing in technology at their most rapid pace since at least 2014, the report noted.

Some of that, of course, is most likely related to artificial intelligence. But firm leaders are also ramping up tech capabilities for their new digs. Crowell & Moring’s Phil Inglima described updates to headquarters in New York, Chicago and D.C. as being designed with a “post-pandemic mindset.”

“All three of those spaces are going to be far, far more efficient and more tech-oriented,” Inglima said in an interview. “We’re getting the best for hybrid work environment, but also the remote hearing space, improved sound buffering in common spaces. All of those will be featured in all three of those offices.”

Perkins Coie’s new office space in Arizona also places a premium on tech and collaboration. The firm and its legacy merger partner, Brown & Bain, spent 35 years in its previous office space in midtown Phoenix before officially moving last month to a complex called the Esplanade II.

Todd Kerr, the firm’s current office managing partner, began his career there as an associate in the early 1990s. He said it was “the only office I’d ever known” but that it was clearly built for a previous era, and “the world had just kind of outgrown the thinking behind the space.”

“We’ve always done a heavy dose of large-case litigation, so it was designed to have huge rooms where you could have up to 100 associates reviewing documents and getting ready for trial,” Kerr said in an interview. “Those capacities are no longer needed. Now we do that so much more efficiently, and a lot of it remotely. So much of it is digital.”

That old office was around 91,000 square feet, while the new one is about one-third of that size. Like other firms, it also features single-size offices, which Kerr said not only frees up more room for conference rooms and event space but also boosts cohesion by putting everyone, from younger lawyers to senior partners, on more of an even footing.

“A lot of thinking in our audio/visuals, the screens in the conference rooms, [was] to make sure that’s as trouble-free as you can get it,” Kerr said. “[Attorneys and others] know they’re going to have top-of-the-line tech with their conference calls and the way they interface with the world, that encourages them to come in more.”

Meanwhile, there are huddle rooms for smaller meet-ups, and a cafe with a soda fountain, coffee bar and cold brew, specifically. Kerr described the office itself as having something of an open aesthetic, with glass doors to the main board room that retract, and event spaces that take advantage of the location’s mountain views. There are also outside terraces where employees can take lunch breaks, or take a call (when the weather isn’t too hot, at least).

The office also features some original works of art, from Southwestern painters like Howard Post, Kerr said. He also said the pandemic had a “huge” influence on the design of the office.

“We think it reflects how firms like us are going to think about things,” Kerr said. “The goal is to optimize the benefits of hoteling and remote working with an incredible in-person office environment that focuses on collaboration, both within the firm and with clients, along with amenities that make it attractive for lawyers and clients to be in the space, and to just have an environment where people want to be.”

He said the firm encourages people to be in the office at least twice a week, but that it’s more of a guideline than a requirement.

Thinking back to his old Brown & Bain days, he never would’ve imagined how a law firm office can look in 2024. “If you told me 30 years ago that you’d have a significant portion of lawyers that wouldn’t come into the office every single day, I would’ve told you, ‘That’s baloney. That can’t happen’.”

Reprinted with permission from the May 7, 2024 edition of The American Lawyer © 2024 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.


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