Law Firm Case Study: Defining A Practice
By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the April 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Having outgrown their existing space, the attorneys of the Saul Ewing LLP office in central New Jersey were looking for a new place to call home in early 2004. The practice had been subletting space in an office park for several years—taking on additional square footage as growth dictated. However, the lack of ample space and the inability to imprint a strong identity within the predesigned spaces prompted a quest for a totally new facility.
Founded in Philadelphia in 1921, Saul Ewing operates in five mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia. The Princeton, NJ office represents local and national clients in areas that include corporate law, creditors’ rights and loan workouts, environmental law, estates and trusts, healthcare, insurance law, litigation, and real estate transactions.
Pamela S. Goodwin, Esq. and Marc A. Citron, Esq., partners there, led the search for a new office. As the managing partner for the location, Goodwin was ultimately responsible for overseeing leasing and all other project costs. She involved Citron (then vice managing partner) in the search for a new site, and he was also tasked with handling fitting out the interior once a new location was chosen. “Marc’s responsibilities, among other things, were facility oriented. Also, he is a real estate attorney. So it made sense to have him involved in the project,” Goodwin explains.
A Chat With Pamela S. Goodwin & Marc A. Citron, Managing Partners, Saul Ewing LLP
What was the motivation to move the Saul Ewing Princeton, NJ office? We had the great good fortune of growing rapidly and by 2004 had outgrown our existing space. Having grown to critical mass, we also felt it was a great opportunity to find a location that would allow us to define the space to suit our needs and identity as a firm.
The space you occupy now didn’t fit all your criteria initially. What has been the biggest surprise now that you’ve occupied this facility for several years? The fact that we were able to work with raw space allowed us to address some of the items the site was missing in terms of our criteria. So we took advantage of that design freedom. Benefits that we didn’t expect when choosing this location include attorneys and staff using the site’s walking paths, as well as the exposure the firm receives from having a ground floor location.
At present, do you have any plans to modify your offices further? Currently, we do not have any plans to make changes to our office. However, behind our large conference room area across the way, we do have option space available. So if we ever need to build out more offices, we can connect them to that conference area.
The practice needed approximately 20,000 square feet to operate comfortably, and an early option was to move to a different unit within the office park it already occupied. However, it was soon decided the site didn’t have what they were looking for, so Goodwin and Citron began looking at other locations in the area. Eventually, they decided upon an unfinished space on the ground floor of a building located several miles away.
As with all the sites considered, the team took into account the pros and cons, and a winning factor for the space was that it was unfinished—a blank slate.
Says Goodwin, “From the outset, we talked with our partners to define a set of objectives—we’re a very collegial firm, and we work with consensus. Ironically this particular space failed a number of things that were important at the time. It was farther than some people wanted to travel, and—at least at the time—the building did not appear to have the amenities our current space offered.”
However, in the end the fact that they could shape their new location from a shell made it a winner. From there, Citron began a close collaboration with the Princeton, NJ location of KSS Architects LLP, the firm hired to help redefine the identity of this Saul Ewing practice through its office space.
Making An Impact
Situated on the ground floor, the firm’s new office is located directly inside the main entrance of a multi-tenant building. While this exposure gave Goodwin and Citron pause at first, this circumstance became a positive since the practice would be visible to the various people traveling in and out of the building.
Initially, the entryway to the firm’s new space consisted of a blank wall, which could host a doorway of some sort, but Saul Ewing wanted to stand out.
Citron collaborated with KSS director of interior design, Sheila Spriggs Nall, ASID, LEED®AP, and her team came up with a plan to alter a significant area of the wall to replace it with a leaded glass façade trimmed with cherry wood. Two oversized doors and the firm’s logo completed this entryway.
Directly inside that entryway is the reception lobby. Speaking about the colors, textures, and furnishings used there and in the rest of the space, Citron explains, “We didn’t want the office to appear stuffy. We also didn’t want an ultramodern aesthetic. We wanted clients, attorneys, and staff to feel comfortable, and I think we achieved that.”
Spriggs Nall toured the firm’s old office to understand the problems there and to avoid them in the new space. She also visited the Saul Ewing office in nearby Philadelphia to study the firm’s identity. “There were some aspects of that office that were very traditional,” she says, “and we took some of its design—leaded glass windows on the entryways, for example—and used them in the new office. We did a modern take on some elements in that way. The use of cherry wood in this office also echoed an aspect of the Philadelphia location.”
Another major factor was the wooded environment that surrounds the building. With Spriggs Nall’s guidance, Goodwin and Citron recognized that using colors of nature for the office interiors would serve to bring the outside in through the views afforded by the windows.
In his facilities role, Citron headed up the task of how to configure and finish the new space. He worked closely with Spriggs Nall to discuss the firm’s image as well as functional needs. To accommodate 20+ attorneys and the support staff, the floor plan needed to include a reception lobby, partner offices, associate offices, paralegal spaces, secretarial areas, workrooms, and other support space. Says Spriggs Nall, “Once we knew the program, we helped with some test fits to see how much space would be needed.”
All attorney offices were located along the perimeter of the space, providing views of the outside. Uniform sizes for partner and associate offices were created, which established a sense of equality amongst peers as well as enabled Citron to use standard sizes in facility planning.
The interior portion of the space accommodates the secretarial staff, and their workstations were arranged in a circular fashion. Secretaries work directly outside of the attorney’s offices whom they support, and those office doors are usually open (the firm has an open door policy, Goodwin notes), which provides the benefit of giving the administrative staff views to the outside. “It may sound like a small notion,” says Goodwin, “but it makes a big difference in the course of a day for them to be able to see outside.”
Says Citron, “Some other locations we considered would have required a bullpen type of layout for our secretarial staff. Some firms do this, but there’s no privacy. Our secretaries are stationed in groups of two, which works well for privacy, but it also means when one goes to lunch the other can pick up the phone. Also, they share printers and other equipment.”
A workout facility was an amenity that Goodwin and Citron were glad to incorporate. “One of the concerns about leaving our former space was that the new building did not have a gym (whereas where we were leaving did),” says Goodwin. “A number of attorneys had taken advantage of that amenity and were concerned when we moved here. As we were fitting out this space, we were able to build a small workout room and a shower. Additionally, this site features an arboretum with walking paths, so we are able to use that for fitness as well.”
Taking A Leap
A somewhat unusual feature of the new office was that the firm would occupy space on both sides of the building’s main lobby—the reception area, attorney offices, and support staff were located on the one side, while a large conference room, along with several smaller rooms and kitchenettes were sited across the lobby. Spriggs Nall explains, “In planning, it became clear that all functions were not going to fit on the one side of the lobby. So we put the large conference center on the other side. The entry there was designed be almost a mirror image of the firm’s main entrance, so this linked them visually.”
Initially Citron was not convinced this separation of facilities would work best for the practice, but he’s since realized the benefits. “Essentially, this split the functions into a public space and a private space,” he says. “The side with attorney offices and the smaller conference rooms serves as the private, while the large conference area is the public space where we accommodate a variety of client services. This has allowed clients to have more privacy, because it segregates activities in the attorney offices from certain client interactions.”
Says Goodwin, “At that time, there was a lot being written about law firms segregating major conference areas to prevent clients from walking through an office where they might be privy to confidential conversations and documents. Certainly, having a client’s trust that the information that attends to them isn’t something that could inadvertently be shared is an important concept. So Marc and I discussed this, and I actually thought it was a great plus to have our most significant conference space away from what we do on a daily basis.”
Mixing Form With Function
Now, after having occupied the office for several years, Goodwin and Citron report that the choices they made continue to serve the practice well. Structurally, something Citron pushed for was to build the hallways 1′ wider than would normally be specified for this type of space. This initiative was implemented for aesthetic and functional reasons.
“The wider hallways provide a more open feeling as you walk through the space. That’s number one,” he says. “Secondly, we were using wallcovering in the hallways, and that had presented a big problem for us in the past with walls being scuffed by the cleaning staff coming through with their carts. We did discuss the possibility of saving money and painting instead, but if that gets scuffed, we’d still need to repaint. We don’t have scuff marks on the walls here, and I think that is due to the combination of using wallcoverings and the extra foot. So it has ultimately saved us money. Meanwhile, we did paint in the offices.”
Another aspect for which Citron weighed pros and cons was the type of doors to install. He wanted to use full floor to ceiling cherry wood doors that would complement other wood elements. He also wanted to frame the doors in cherry wood.
“We debated this,” explains Goodwin. “Having ultimate responsibility to the executive committee for the project costs, I was looking at every way to save on costs. I wanted to use standard size doors. And if we did use the full size doors, I proposed omitting cherry for the frames. But Marc asserted it would make a huge difference in terms of the look, and it absolutely does. It was one of those things where in the overarching picture it was not a huge cost but we get so much aesthetic value for it.”
A relatively light carpet color was desired, and before deciding, the team tested their final choice for stain resistance by pouring liquids on it that would pose a threat (e.g., coffee, soda). “It was very forgiving,” says Goodwin. “In fact, everything has held up beautifully. We’ve had the carpets cleaned as part of routine upkeep, and they look like new. We’ve had some touch up painting done, and Marc has arranged to have the desk manufacturer fix some nicks and scratches. But beyond that, to look at this space, you’d think we’d moved in yesterday.”
Name Of Organization: Saul Ewing LLP. Type of Facility: New office in an existing multi-tenant building. Function of Facility: Law firm. Location: Princeton, NJ. Square Footage: 20,112. Budget: $1.75 million (construction only). Construction Timetable: April 2004 to June 2004. Cost Per Square Foot: $87. Facility Owner: 750 College Road Associates, L.P. (a partnership of BPG Property group and Aegis Property Group Interests). In-Firm Facility Manager: Marc A. Citron. Architect/Interior Designer: KSS Architects LLP. General Contractor: Clemens Construction. Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: Creamridge Consulting, Inc.
Furnishings: Bernhardt (guest seating, tables); David Edward (guest seating); HBF (guest seating, tables); Humanscale (task seating); Tella (office furniture, secretarial stations, tables). Flooring: Armstrong (VCT); Forbo (Marmoleum); Stone Source (MarbleTile). Carpet: J&J/Invision. Ceilings: Armstrong (Optima acoustical tile). Paint: Benjamin Moore; Sherwin-Williams. Wallcovering: Blumenthal (Parchment); Knoll (Straight Up); Maharam (Parchment); TRI-KES (Classic Walls). Lighting: Focal Point (recessed fluorescent troffers); Halo (downlights); Tango Lighting (conference room pendants); Vibia (other decorative).