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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 7, 2016 1 year ago

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Lawyers traditionally emphasize convention over contemporary in offices. That's started to change.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Executive Summary
Industry. Law Trend. Law firms are adapting to new office space trends. Key. Some firms have made significant investments in new offices.


Bradenton attorney Jonathan Fleece, managing partner of a 23-lawyer firm, has seen the inside of lot of law offices nationwide in the past two decades.

The days of Waterford Crystal candy bowls, ostentatious conference rooms and grandiose foyers are just about over, Fleece says. Sleek desks, open space for collaborative work and generous use of sunlight are the new trends in law office space. Much like other industries, the legal sector seeks a hip, trendy vibe — something worthy of the next big wave of employees — millennials.

“The traditional notion of a law office with a lawyer secluded in an office and the secretary outside in a little cube is absolutely being replaced,” says Fleece, managing partner of Blalock Walters PA, with offices in Sarasota and Bradenton. “If you walk into an office that's old and stodgy and stuffy, it's tough to create an energetic workforce.”

The shift isn't only to give young lawyers a cool place to work. It's also a byproduct of the recession, where clients scaled back on legal services in many sectors. That, in turn, says Fleece, caused many law firm executives to re-evaluate how much they were paying per square foot, and how they could make more efficient use of space.

As an industry, law firms are late to the cool and open workspace party. Tere Blanca, a onetime South Florida Cushman & Wakefield executive who now runs a Miami-based commercial real estate firm, says conflict between old-school attorneys and young lawyers is normally the sticking point.

“Attorneys historically have embraced more traditional decor and have kept partners/shareholders working behind the closed doors of their large offices,” Blanca wrote in a July blog post on law360.com about how law firms can create next generation office spaces. “Meanwhile, today's new generation of attorneys is interested in something quite different: more modern-looking environments with open, collaborative office layouts and the flexibility to work remotely.”

Here's how four local law firms have changed their space:

BerlinĀ Patten Ebling, Sarasota
The waiting room, not necessarily a space for attorneys to work, was the driving force behind a sleek new office for Sarasota-based real estate law firm BerlinĀ Patten Ebling PLLC.

The idea was to create something comfortable and practical, something, says co-founding partner Evan Berlin, that fits what the firm specializes in — real estate closings.

That's why the new client reception area looks more like a trendy, hip, big-city lounge than a law office. The space, which takes up roughly half the floor, includes Wi-Fi, charging docks, a fully stocked Sub-Zero fridge with beverages, a deluxe barista machine, and a flat screen TV.

“Traditional law firms can be so stuffy,” says firm partner Jamie Ebling. “We wanted something more relaxed.”

The firm moved into its new space, a 15,000-square-foot, two-story building a few miles south of downtown Sarasota, across the street from the Southgate Mall, in October 2015. It paid $2.93 million for the building, property records show. The firm's main office had been in downtown Sarasota since it was founded in 2009.

But new space was essential, says Berlin, given the firm's rapid growth. It has eight attorneys, up from five a few years ago, and it has more than a dozen people in support and paralegal roles. Revenue in 2015 doubled from the previous year, Berlin adds.

Behind the lobby, the firm has many other modern office space features, including open, collaborative workspaces and glass doors for conference rooms. One room meant for an office is now a kid-friendly space that includes chalk and a chalkboard, video games and candy jars.

The renovations of the office, originally built in 1995, included the design and other elements, such as new air conditioning systems. It was not an inexpensive undertaking. Says Berlin: “You can do anything you want when you have a budget and blow right past it.”

Holland & Knight, Brandon
Holland & Knight LLP, one of the most prominent law firms in Florida, last year gave up a chunk of its downtown Tampa space.

It moved its 250-employee administrative support unit — IT, finance, accounting, marketing and more — to a 50,000-square-foot suburban facility in a Brandon office park. The support staff handles tasks for Holland & Knight attorneys worldwide. Its lawyers remain in the downtown office.

Carrie Weintraub, chief professional development and human resources officer at Holland & Knight, says firm officials were nervous about the split at first. Changes in people's commutes and routines were at stake, in addition to a new layout and other logistics.

But roughly a year later, Weintraub says the move has been a big success. “The old office space was closed off,” says Weintraub, who moved her own office from downtown to the Brandon facility, and was one of the people who had an extended commute. “You could be on the same floor as someone and go two weeks without seeing them.”

The new office is the opposite. The design includes extensive open spaces, sunlight and glass doors. One of the best features, says Weintraub: A cafe that offers firm-subsidized Starbucks drinks. And for perks other than coffee, a food truck comes every Friday.

Weintraub often sees employees going for walks around the campus. While they could, and did, do that in downtown Tampa, the area around the Brandon office is more relaxed and less harried.

Not that work pace has slowed. The unit is hyper busy, says Weintraub, only now it's more efficient than ever before. “There are no walls now between departments,” she says. “We've really seen a dramatic increase in collaboration.”

Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, Naples
A major renovation is in the design and planning stages for the firm's Naples office, which is split between the first and third floors of a three-story building off Vanderbilt Beach Road. About 30 employees, half lawyers, half support staff, work at that office.

Managing partner Brian Cross says the firm aims to mimic Google with some aspects of the new office. “We won't go as far as pods for naps,” says Cross, “but we want to increase the recreational aspect of work.”

The firm, with other offices in Fort Myers, Boca Raton and Coral Gables, handles a wide range of work, including business law, real estate, condos and homeowners association law and family law. Founded in 2010, Cross says the idea was always to have a place that's fun to work, not a law office that makes people think of a funeral home.

That's why early plans for the new space, a retrofit of its current 9,000-square-foot office, show a design with amusement in mind, Cross says. It includes installing a standup Donkey Kong video game in the break room. The firm does cool things outside the office, too, including group trips to Miami Dolphins games.

“The practice of law for the attorneys and the staff can be stressful, so we want to make it as fun as we can,” says Cross, who shuns ties, unless he's going to court, and favors cowboy boots most days. “It just makes common sense. We don't make widgets or build cars. Our people are all we have.”

Greenberg Traurig, Tampa
The office of the future at Greenberg Traurig LLP began as a decision: The global firm, with some 2,000 lawyers worldwide, for several years had been in a standalone building in downtown Tampa across from the courthouse.

David Weinstein, the Tampa managing shareholder, says the firm wasn't going to move just to move. “We wanted something that would be modern and timeless,” he says. “We didn't want to look back in 10 years and say we did something trendy, but it didn't stand the test of time.”

Last year, the firm signed a 10-year lease for a 20,000-square-foot office on the 19th floor of the Bank of America Plaza building on East Kennedy Boulevard. It hired architecture firm Gensler and Associates and IConstructors for the design and build out. Features include:

Transparent design, such as glass front walls on offices;
Adjustable workspaces, including standing desks in every office;
Interactive technology that allows lawyers to move throughout the office and connect with the firm's global network; and
Expandable multipurpose space that can be used for conference rooms, training rooms and to host events for clients, nonprofits and community groups.

A Greenberg Traurig spokeswoman notes other Florida offices in the firm also have modern looks, including Fort Lauderdale, Miami and West Palm Beach. And just about every client or lawyer who comes to the Tampa office drops a compliment about the sleek, warm and inviting space. Some have even reached out to Weinstein to come back for a more formal tour, to get ideas for their own office.

“We virtually brought nothing with us from our old office,” Weinstein says. “This was a significant investment.”

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