Posted Jun 05, 2007 08:28 am CDT
After spending its entire history in the tallest high-rise office building in downtown Louisville, Ky., the law firm of Goldberg & Simpson decided it was time to change direction.
The firm had merged several years earlier with another firm and, as a result, found itself trying to shuttle people and resources between two offices that were bursting at the seams.
Meanwhile, many of the firm’s downtown neighbors were solving similar growth issues by forgoing the city in favor of the suburbs, where office space was cheaper, commutes were easier and the parking was free.
Goldberg & Simpson decided to follow suit.
The firm bought land in a new, mixed-use planned community in a developing area about 10 miles from downtown Louisville and began to build its dream office. When construction is complete in late summer, the 30-lawyer firm will move into a 35,000-square-foot space tricked out with the latest technology, conference facilities and other amenities.
The new location made sense from the get-go. “In our situation we had a beautiful spot downtown, but we were paying a substantial amount of money for a spot where our lawyers just parked their cars,” says partner Jon Goldberg.
Lawyers and staff are happy because many of them will be closer to friends and family, and partners hope this happiness will translate into improved productivity, Goldberg says. The new spot is also more convenient to the suburban offices of the firm’s commercial bank clients.
Yet there was one important feature the firm knew it couldn’t construct from the ground up: its image.
Keeping the Chic
Its downtown high-rise location always lent a certain gravitas to the office–it was exactly the type of space that a client would expect from a law firm. The challenge that faced the lawyers of Goldberg & Simpson was how to evoke the sophistication and modernity of a downtown address–just with out the downtown.
Goldberg & Simpson’s move makes it one of a small but growing number of law firms located in small to midsize cities that are making the strategic decision to move out of their central business districts into emerging growth areas, says Life Audit law office design expert Marty Festenstein of Chicago, a principal architect at the international design firm Gensler.
Such moves can be rife with peril, says Festenstein, or they can become the perfect opportunity to burnish a firm’s image through sophisticated space planning and design. It all depends on the strategy, he says.
And Goldberg & Simpson made all the right moves, Festenstein says. In fact, he believes the process the firm went through to prepare for relocation provides a perfect road map for any firm thinking about making a similar move. Here are five of the firm’s best strategies.
• Avoiding the rush. After nearly 30 years in the same location, Goldberg & Simpson didn’t rush the decision to relocate. In fact, it spent about two years deliberating and negotiating. Firm leaders took time to anticipate new challenges, but they also made an effort to incorporate the lessons they had learned from their last office reorganization, about 12 years ago, Goldberg says.
• Planning for expansion. The firm also gave careful thought to its growth strategy and how that would translate into its need for space in the future.
The firm has definite plans to expand, and its building reflects that. Until that happens, however, the firm doesn’t plan to allow its extra space to lie idle. Plans are in the works to bring in a tenant perhaps even one that is an existing client for the next three to five years, says partner Marc Yussman.
The firm may even build an additional building that could include outside tenants in the next few years, Goldberg says.
“One of the main purposes in moving to this location is not just to grow the firm,” he says, “but to move into a campus organization and have all of our growth riddles solved at one time.”And there are plans to rent out a portion of that facility, too.
• Seating strategically. The firm has left nothing in the new building to chance, including whose desks will go where.
Rather than allow lawyers to jockey for window offices, the partners carefully examined the needs of each practice group to determine the most logical placements. For example, the real estate group will be located near the firm’s third-floor conference center, says Goldberg, and everyone will be together on the same floor. The firm’s litigators, by contrast, handle a wide range of matters, so they will not be stationed together. “We tried to make all the offices working offices, but we also tried to take into consideration each partner’s space needs,” says Yussman.
“We have a high-end plaintiffs attorney who likes to bring clients into his office to humanize himself; the same is true with our family practice lawyers. So in those cases, they need larger offices that might be able to hold a conference table in it. Our real estate attorneys, though, use the conference rooms.”
• Adopting the right technology. During the planning stages of the move, Goldberg says, the firm was obsessed with efficiency.
“For a while we were outsourcing to India and doing things like that, so we are very much aware of the productivity savings that are out there if you are willing to explore it and work through it,” he says. So the firm made sure the plans for the new building incorporated not only the latest technology but also the most logical technology, making it easy for everyone to embrace.
For example, the conference rooms used for real estate closings will be equipped with a camera that comes down from the ceiling to take pictures of key documents and project them on the wall, eliminating the need for reams of superfluous copies. “We do 3,000 closings a year, and this saves on copying costs; it saves paper and storage needs,” Yussman says.
• Empowering employees. Any type of major change can have serious effects on employee morale, and this fact wasn’t lost on Goldberg & Simpson. The firm took myriad affirmative actions to keep staff in the loop and excited about the change.
“We have field trips where we take anyone who wants to go to see how the building is progressing,” Goldberg says. The firm will also give each staff member a relocation budget to buy whatever is needed to personalize an individual’s workspace. “We also will have a general art budget for the whole space and will let everyone participate in selecting the art,” he says.
Clearly, Goldberg & Simpson put a lot of thought into its move beyond the basics of cost savings, says architect Festenstein.
“Although it’s a major cultural shift after being in the central business district for so many years, I have a sneaking suspicion that this move will make the firm better by making accommodations for staff and clients,” he says. “It will contribute to the continued success of Goldberg & Simpson.”
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The move to the suburbs could have been a drag for the Goldberg & Simpson litigators. They still have to regularly drive to the courthouses in downtown Louisville. Instead of forcing lawyers to scramble for parking, the firm invested in a few well-placed downtown spaces giving them one less thing to worry about.
An internationally renowned architect based in Chicago, Marty Festenstein specializes in law firm planning and design. As co-chair of Gensler’s professional service practice area, he has designed hundreds of law firm offices around the world.