Making space for success

K&L Gates’ move to London’s One New Change development was key to a wider inclusive strategy 

By Debra Lehman-Smith and Janet Rankin, Lehman Smith McLeish

K&L Gates’ move to London’s One New Change in May 2011 has done far more than just provide the firm with bright, open space and unsurpassed views of Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.  

The London facility – occupied just one year after a paradigm-shifting relocation for the firm’s 250,000sq ft Pittsburgh office – is part of a global platform designed to enhance legal performance through physical planning.  

In addition to the obvious advantages One New Change affords, such as advancing K&L Gates’ lateral hiring strategy, fostering the firm’s global brand, and providing for wide-reaching meetings and events, the biggest benefit to the firm may be the key role the space plays in increasing the level of support that the firm offers its lawyers – with a direct and measurable correlation to client service. 

Office

Enriching environment

Prior to assuming tenancy at One New Change, lawyers at K&L Gates’ London office could be found distributed over multiple, isolated floors in the firm’s previous location of 110 Cannon Street. With only eight to 10 offices per floor, the lawyers were spread out over nine floors, each less than 6,000sq ft. Support staff were similarly removed, from each other and from their constituency.  

The enhanced physical offering of One New Change offered numerous opportunities to facilitate greater collaboration between professional and support functions, thereby enriching client services. In the firm’s new setting, lawyers from all practice groups are now located in adjacent spaces on what is essentially a single floor plate – the largest contiguous in London – providing a vibrant, interactive work environment that facilitates the sharing of knowledge and fosters closer working relationships not only among lawyers but between lawyers and staff as well.  

It was immediately obvious that the new premises both required and allowed restructuring of multiple facility teams. Inspired by the move, reception, post, print, events, and IT personnel were shifted from silo-oriented tasks to cross-department functions, thus ensuring a more fluid and collaborative approach to servicing professional teams and their clients. Moreover, the physical proximity that allows for this cross-training creates a significantly higher level of efficiency and operational resilience for the firm.

The physical openness and visual continuity of the office creates an ethos of involvement and inclusion; this interaction not only has enhanced the client offering but has developed a culture of respect and appreciation among support departments regarding challenges and pressure points of firm operations. 

Flexible zones

Through this project, K&L Gates was committed not only to supporting business strategy but to enhancing day-to-day life for each member of the firm, regardless of position. Starting from the very first day of occupation, the new space brought new policies and ways of working. Changes have been felt at every level – not just on the balance sheet but through the behaviours and attitudes of all employees.  

At reception, one receptionist and three switchboard operators have been amalgamated to form a concierge-like client service team, allowing for two staff members to be on hand at all times. Highly visible, this team is knowledgeable about key clients and business operations, anticipating needs (including those for meetings and audio-visual support) throughout an extended day that lasts until midnight.

The typical legal practice workspace is organised into seven ‘neighbourhoods’, creating dynamic working groups that break down the scale of the large floor plate. These flexible zones can expand, contract or be reconfigured to accommodate changing practice group needs and the evolution of lawyer/staff ratios. 

A transparent perimeter wall system blurs the distinction between cellular office and open plan; the increased visibility encourages inter-practice communications. Adjacent modules of open-office workgroups can also house secretarial and professional staff in an interchangeable manner. Cross-disciplinary legal team members now sit alongside one another, helping the firm to capitalise on the teams’ combined skill sets and aiding project management. 

Benefits of this reorganisation extend beyond the lawyers; like their counterparts throughout the firm, secretaries are encouraged to learn the nuances of supporting multiple practices, breaking down skill-set and sector barriers. Secretaries previously dedicated to real estate work, for example, now work with the funds and finance practice groups, while those skilled in general litigation, arbitration, and mediation proceedings are learning to support more complex, deal-driven transactions.  

Overlaps in professional responsibilities create a more efficient work environment, allowing the existing secretarial staff to support multiple practice areas and helping to achieve an improvement in fee-earner to secretarial ratios. Client service is enhanced by sheer proximity; secretaries and other legal practice staff are now more accessible and are included in teamwork more regularly. 

Neighbourhoods are supported by strategically-placed breakout and technology areas, inspiring a rethinking of physical processes as well. With the move, the firm adopted a more structured approach to printing, eliminating personal printers on lawyer and secretary desks in favour of more centralised support points. Filing has become more efficient as well, with a barcode system that makes tracking and retrieval immediate. Again, cross-trained support staff embedded within the practice areas can be more involved – and responsible – for these functions.

Smooth operation

Postroom staff have become equally fluid. Virtually invisible on Level 1 at 110 Cannon Street, this group’s only interaction was periodic mail delivery throughout the upper floors.  Now located centrally within the floor plate of Level 5, post staff are visible, accessible and able to contribute more fully to the business of the firm, with widely expanded and diversified skills including details of meeting planning and facilitation.  

The central location of this support function provides immediate assistance for both professional and client requests. Facility staff have developed a “service desk” attitude where ownership of tasks are assumed and managed to conclusion. Greater exposure to lawyers and clients helps this group to anticipate need and to engage in a positive cycle of professional growth. 

Cross-departmental working relationships have been particularly evident in the preparation, hosting and evaluation of client and office-focused events. With a 150 per cent increase in the square footage devoted to meeting and collaborative functions from its former site, the firm’s new office incorporates extensive public spaces that have helped to support and enhance its existing business, increasing opportunities for productive meetings and the hosting of visitors and events. Indeed, within the first half-year of the firm’s occupancy, average monthly meetings in the London office increased 58 per cent, rising an additional 40 per cent above that initial increase through the first full year of occupancy in 2012.

For meeting and event support, a project management approach has been deployed, with inclusion of multiple support personnel to ensure smooth and consistent operation. Marketing, catering and facilities members now form a united team in the planning, organisation, and delivery of events spanning a few hours to multiple days.   

Bottom line    

The London office represents an intrinsic component of the K&L Gates brand, progressive, forward-thinking, agile and global. Yet it is not only the lawyers who feel an increased connection to a global network, but the entirety of the London employee base. The space raises the bar for all, encouraging professional opportunity, providing a setting for growth and advancement and enhancing a feeling of pride in the firm and its achievements.

‘Employee engagement’, one of today’s most-used measures of professional satisfaction, is more than evident here. A recent request for employees to staff a weekend deal-closing brought a surprising result – not only in the number of people who volunteered but also in their cross-section of job functions – from printroom, human resources and secretarial sectors. It suggests that space can, and does, change the way people work, affecting productivity and inspiring confidence and connection.

Enhancements in London have been further strengthened by greater involvement, guidance and interaction with firmwide support departments, including lessons learned and best practices shared from previous relocation and/or fit-out projects across the K&L Gates platform. In turn, the London support group is now an increasingly valuable resource. An ongoing benefit of this knowledge-sharing is the continued interaction and collaboration among local and international support members, providing a sense of community that spans multiple locations.         

What’s the bottom line? While many competitor firms continue to pursue rigid departmental or sectoral strategies, the growth of revenues in K&L Gates’ London office by 22 per cent during the past three years of effective recession suggests that this multidisciplinary, inclusionary strategy has also gained traction with clients, creating a significant advantage and differentiator for the firm in the London market.