Law firms renovate, relocate with future growth in mind

Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//December 2, 2014

Law firms renovate, relocate with future growth in mind

By Lauren Kirkwood

//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

//December 2, 2014

For law firms that decide to renovate their office space or sign a lease in a new location, providing for the needs of today’s clients and staff while predicting what the firm will look like in years to come is a delicate balance.

So when Pessin Katz Law P.A. decided to renew its lease in Towson and renovate the space the firm has occupied for about two decades, questions of how to modernize the office while accounting for potential growth drove the firm’s plans.

PK Law isn’t the only local firm that has recently taken steps to revamp its real estate. The desire to save money, make use of collaborative spaces and appeal to a younger generation of attorneys has led other firms to overhaul their office space as well through moves, renovations and subleases.

“In general, if you ask a law firm to estimate where they’ll be in 10 years, you almost always get blank stares. Flexibility is a really key component,” said Elizabeth Mesora, a senior designer with architecture and design firm Gensler in Washington, which worked on PK Law’s project.

Construction began near the end of October at 901 Dulaney Valley Road.

However, before the first wall was knocked down, Chris Murray, managing director at real estate services firm Jones Lang Lasalle, met with staff members at Pessin Katz to compile a “wish list” for the renovated space.

Greater access to technological resources is one item that will soon be crossed off that list. After the renovation is complete, the firm will have multiple rooms that are equipped for video conferencing, where attorneys can meet with expert witnesses or take part in depositions without having to travel.

The video conference rooms will make up part of a “conference room center” on the firm’s fifth floor space, while all attorney offices will be moved to the fourth floor, providing a clear separation between client-centric areas and attorney workspace, Murray said.

“The renovation is really going to allow us to reorganize practice areas, so all members of a team can work closely together,” said Catherine Steiner, a member in the firm’s medical malpractice group. “There’s also a really big benefit in terms of allowing more senior members to collaborate with more junior attorneys and staff.”

With a firm of more than 40 attorneys, along with paralegals, administrators, legal clerks and other staff, creating an environment where all employees will be able to interact with each other more often was a priority, said Cindy Hunt, the firm’s facilities manager.

To achieve this goal, the renovation plans also included the conversion of several attorney offices into a window-filled lunchroom — “more like a coffee shop,” Murray said — where attorneys and staff can eat lunch or meet informally throughout the day.

“A big challenge with law firms is that with technology, it’s easy for them to work the whole day in their office and not see each other,” Murray said.

Other firms also are working to create a more collaborative environment, including Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler in downtown Baltimore. After more than three decades on South Charles Street, the firm plans to move its office to 250 W. Pratt Street in December.

The new space will allow the firm to occupy 15,500 square feet on one floor rather than 24,000 square feet spread out over two floors, making for a more efficient workspace, said Renée Lane-Kunz, an employment attorney who also serves as the firm’s chief operating officer.

“It gave us the opportunity to really reconsider how we work,” Lane-Kunz said.  ”A lot of time and effort went into building a space that was conducive to better communication and to collaborative workspaces.”

These are all qualities that Lane-Kunz said will not only save the firm money, but should also help the firm attract talented attorneys.

Because the design of the new office includes shared space that can be converted to individual offices or secretarial space if necessary, the firm will be able to accommodate any growth over the course of the 10-year lease, she said.

For other firms, a change in office real estate means a search for new tenants rather than a new address.

When G. Macy Nelson, of The Law Office of G. Macy Nelson LLC, first moved into a suite at 401 Washington Ave., in Towson more than 15 years ago, he was a subtenant sharing the space with a few other small firms. Then, one of the other firms moved out, leaving a few empty attorneys’ offices that Nelson is now looking to fill.

“I think it’s a nice space; it’s a nice legal community,” Nelson said. “Aesthetically, we overlook the old courthouse, which is the prettiest building in Towson.”

Anywhere from one to four attorneys, along with their legal assistants, could fill the empty space and become part of an already up-and-running law office, he said.

“Someone could walk in here one morning and be practicing law by the afternoon,” Nelson said.

At Pessin Katz Law, a sleek new look and modern amenities should also attract attorneys to the firm over the next decade, Murray said.

“If they have modest growth, we have five [additional lawyers] or if they grow by 10, we might need space for five more,” Murray said. “We try to anticipate both the optimistic and pessimistic analysis, so they’re prepared. When the dust settles, we want them to be able to comfortably live in their space over the course of the lease.”


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