April 19, 2024

The Law Firm Disrupted: For Office Attendance, is Music a New Carrot?

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Mayer Brown's Charlotte office has a record room—for listening to LPs, not storing boxes of documents.

For the last few years, the push to get employees back into the office has been all about a combination of carrots and sticks.

That’s true from where I’m sitting in ALM’s Philadelphia office, where I’m hoping to finish this briefing before my 15-minute chair massage with a therapist who’s making her monthly visit.

Obviously, the carrot fund in Big Law is much deeper, so we’ve been hearing about amenities like fitness centers for group and individual exercise, on-site cafes, meditation suites and outdoor spaces.

But as an inveterate music listener and purchaser of vinyl records, I couldn’t ignore a message I received about a new type of space I’d never heard of before. Two years ago, Mayer Brown was planning two new floors of space for its 80-lawyer office in Charlotte, and the firm’s local leadership was working with a blank slate.

“We wanted to do things a little bit different. We wanted to take into account changing requirements and norms with regard to back to the office,” Charlotte managing partner Eric Reilly told me this week, noting that younger workers also have differing expectations for the workplace. “Traditionally law firms could be a little sterile.”

Instead of one more conference room, they asked the question, “What could appeal to everyone, and bring younger and older generations together?”
The answer: a music room. Start with a lounge space—warm tones, comfortable furniture—but outfit it with a high-end record player and excellent speakers. And stock it with a pile of records, a figure that’s up to 200 now, along with books on music. (There’s also a TV in the mix.) And in a twist on traditional activities for summer associates, the Charlotte team gets to make a trip to a local record store to pick out a fresh stack of vinyl for the collection.

Personnel in the Charlotte office put the room to use in a variety of ways, according to Reilly. Several groups have monthly meetings there, with music in the background. Others filter in later in the day, looking for a change in pace. And it works as a place to meet clients and break the ice.

“People who don’t like music are few and far between,” Reilly said. “It makes for a good conversation starter.”

This is where I interject my usual skepticism about the significance of law firm “culture,” and yet the choices that firms make when it comes to perks or amenities does send a message about what sort of place they offer to build a career.

And there’s also something to be said for a space that feels a little bit different simply for the sake of offering a break in the routine—a point I’ve heard repeatedly from architects and office designers over the past few years.

“It’s able to provide a little bit of relaxation in the sometimes chaotic workday of a transactional law practice, where things can tend to be very fast-paced and stressful,” Reilly said. “Having a place to unwind and collect your thoughts and reflect throughout the day, even for a few minutes, has been helpful.”

And in case you’re wondering who Mayer Brown’s Charlotte team is listening to the most? It’s the late, great Tom Petty.

Reprinted with permission from the April 19, 2024 edition of Law.com © 2024 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

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