by Bill Puetz, CID, LEED AP
Relocating an office of 120 legal professionals is a daunting task under any circumstance. But when a law firm has been in the same space for four decades, there is even more at stake. This was the case for our client Squire, Sanders & Dempsey that took the opportunity to address changes within the legal profession as well as to reflect upon the core values that define its culture today.
Squire Sanders, an international law firm, had outgrown its San Francisco Financial District office at One Maritime Plaza. Attorney Thomas Woofter and Office Administrator Joan Klaassen lead the charge to plan the new space. We had the pleasure of sitting down with them in their new offices at 275 Battery Street to look back at the process.
Tom: I would say the biggest changes are in the ways in which we now communicate and work together, both internally and externally. Thanks to technology, more and more communication is done by e-mail and most research is done online. As a result, we now have lesser need for extensive library space, but greater need to make and find ways and places for people to get together to share thoughts and ideas.
Joan: Also, as a practical matter, since this generation of attorneys does more of its own work, there is less need for secretarial areas.
Bill: How did this inform the design of your new office?
Tom: We wanted to have an area where people could get together and collaborate. We wanted to have spaces where we could host seminars and interact with people from outside the firm.
Bill: There used to be segregation between partners, associates, paralegals, and secretaries. But you chose to create a shared lounge?
Tom: We are not as hierarchical as your typical law firm. We wanted to have areas like the employee lounge for everyone to gather. The intensity of a law practice is just as stressful for the staff as it is for the attorneys.
Bill: Would you say mutual respect is part of your firm’s culture?
Tom: We really emphasize it, and what you emphasize is what you get. It creates your environment.
Joan: The funny thing is it’s the younger staff who were concerned about reducing the collection.
Bill: Are they doing more of the research?
Tom: Yes, they are, and while they do most of their research online, in some cases they still like to have particular resources they can lay on their desks and refer to as well.
Bill: How have the meeting spaces changed how you work?
Joan: We are doing more of our meetings here, which we weren’t doing before. Attorneys were holding meetings at other locations, because they didn’t want to bring clients or guests to the old space.
Tom: Everyone likes having a conference center as opposed to having conference rooms distributed throughout the various floors. And now, we’re letting different organizations use our space for meetings and other events. They are nonprofits that we support or associations for select practice areas.
Joan: If you leave enough time, the visioning can be implemented. I was looking through the programming documents the other day, and what we wanted is definitely what we got.
Tom: We were able to envision what we wanted, identify space early, evaluate what could be saved and reused, and pay no double rent.
Bill: You involved different groups in visioning and the design phase. Were you able to engage more people internally that way?
Tom: We discussed how to shape that process, because we wanted people to be invested. We had to have representation among practice groups, partners, associates, and staff. We had a good balance between letting people have a say and making sure the process moved ahead.
Tom: I don’t think so. We achieved what we wanted and managed to keep 60%.
Joan: I think the space looks completely different from what it did before.
Bill: I’ve worked on LEED projects where clients wanted to pursue certification because it’s trendy, but Squire Sanders has a longer green history.
Tom: Through Joan’s efforts in our Palo Alto and in San Francisco offices, we adopted policies to systematically improve the sustainability of those facilities.
Joan: Yes. We developed materials regarding our firm-wide green initiatives that we offer when a client asks about our sustainability efforts.
Bill: Environmental law is one of your more growing practice areas. There’s a link between what you do internally as a firm and the services you provide in that particular practice group. What are some initiatives your clients want to know about?
Joan: In all of the offices, we track kilowatt usage every month. For this office, I worked closely with the building management to collect this data since our move.
Bill: Many clients will focus on one aspect of the project, like sustainability, but you didn’t want to omit good design or other criteria. Can you explain why that balance was so important to the project?
Tom: Not having moved in 37 years, this was a very important move. Getting everything right was critical.
I think you remember my line: “We can do whatever we need to do to save existing conditions, but in the end we have to have first-class space, or I will be hung.” That’s why we paid attention to everything. And also Joan insisted on it.
Tom: You did a good job of helping us understand what certain options would cost, and we did do away with some features that would have been nice to have. We kept a lot, too, like the folding door in the conference center. That is the designer’s role, to help the client understand the trade-offs.
Bill: Tom, with all of your managing responsibilities, was it difficult to attend every meeting over the two and a half years?
Tom: Not when there are pastries.
Joan: I think that shows real commitment from Tom, and if it’s that important to you, what’s the best thing to do? It’s to be there.
Tom: One of the reasons I could be at every meeting was this was one of the last administrative responsibilities I had, and I wanted it to go well. When I was a junior associate, I worked on a letter and couldn’t get it right. I gave it to Sandy Calhoun, who was a senior attorney, and said “wave your magic wand over this and make it better.” And he said “there is no magic wand, you just have to keep rewriting it.”
Whenever you are involved in a project, you want it to be a success. When it’s not a success, it doesn’t matter whether it’s your fault or not. Even if you’ve done a good job, it has to be a success for everybody. And this project was more than a success. ◙