April 2016 Bar Bulletin
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April 2016 Bar Bulletin

Designing Lawyers, Unique Firms

By Curtis Bales


Your legal workplace design affects productivity and the ability to achieve business goals. Obsolete facilities undermine efforts to be lean, smart, nimble and collaborative. Law firms have special requirements that should be incorporated during renovation or new construction projects.

Character — The office design should clearly express the culture and values of your firm and its clients. Incorporating traditional and modern design elements creates a unique, innovative and timeless character.

Security — The floor plan should include control points to limit access into the office. The key areas are the reception lobby front-of-house, and the delivery/pickup/service entry back-

Offices — Law firm floor plans are usually driven by private perimeter offices, which are inflexible and costly. Extensive use of glazed walls maintains privacy, while sharing daylight and views. It is important to assess whether individual offices are required and how large each office needs to be.

Administration — Workspaces should be sized and configured to meet functional requirements. Activities such as organizing and collating require open counter space. Plan for equipment access including desktop and laptop computers, copiers, black-and-white and color printers, binding machines, trimmers, scanners and shredders.

Conferencing — To maintain security client conference rooms should be located adjacent to the reception lobby. Rooms should range in size from small up to boardroom capacity; firms that hold large meetings may require multi-function spaces with movable partitions. Provide accommodation for audio/visual equipment.

War Rooms — These secure spaces are used to strategize and prepare cases for trial. War rooms should be located in a protected area of the floor plan, locked and visually private. Essentials include conference/work tables, computers, document file shelves, whiteboards, exhibit storage and audio/
visual equipment.

Café — A café lounge provides an opportunity to take a break for coffee or lunch, confer informally with colleagues or work outside a private office without leaving the premises. A well-designed and equipped café is an onsite amenity and can also serve as a venue for firm-wide special events.

Support — Incoming/outgoing deliveries and mail, receiving and sorting, scanning and copying, central filing, and staging for offsite document storage can be co-located to provide efficient space and staff utilization.

Records — Law firms generally utilize central filing, including track-
mounted, “high-density” rolling systems. Most buildings have limited specific areas that can be structurally modified to support this weight. It is essential to include the building structural engineer early in the planning process.

Stairways — Large, multi-floor firms often include a feature stair for convenient access. The optimum stair location and configuration must be coordinated with the structural framing and building systems. This requires early collaboration between the architect and structural, mechanical and electrical engineers.

Curtis Bales is an AIA architect. He can be reached at curtisrbales@gmail.com This summary is intended to highlight representative general requirements. Actual detailed requirements will vary from firm to firm and building to building.

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