Office fit-outs can cost the earth, so take note from the experts on how to do it right.

This week’s UK 200: Financial Management report, which has dug under the skin of law firm debt levels to reveal borrowing structures and investments, has also underlined the extent to which offices are a significant overhead.

Indeed, for many firms one of the biggest costs after salaries is investment into new offices or fit-outs. For these kinds of deals firms will not only turn to their bankers for additional funding but will also look to a fit-out specialist such as the consultancy bluu, which in August this year was acquired by real estate business JLL.

The company’s managing director Nigel Wilson confirmed that for bluu the UK legal market is an increasingly prominent part of the business, with some firms particularly willing to spend big money on making a statement.

“Some of the big US firms like to make a splash, they can be happy to spend for quality, the right acoustic quality and so on,” said Wilson. “But they’re not throwing money at it like the hedge funds or private equity, who often go for impact designs and who often don’t care as much about the cost. Law firms tend to keep it appropriate to what they do.”

In the trade they call this Design Magnolia.

“It means your customers might not remember your office, but they don’t remember it for the right reasons,” adds Wilson. “As a law firm, you shouldn’t be overly impressive.”

Still, as with everything, there are exceptions. When Mishcon de Reya moved from Red Lion Square to Africa House and ripped down the ceiling it found the original marble and decided to increase the contract value so that the firm could match the style of the building to its heritage.

“They did it because they fell in love with the building,” confirms Wilson. “Also it fits the profile and image of the firm and their client base. A bit quirky.”

Forsters is another example. The top end real estate-focused firm is in a traditional building in Grosvenor Street.

“It’s highly professional, not over the top but it’s still in Mayfair,” said Wilson. “It’s fit for purpose.”

The key point is that increasingly law firms’ offices are being designed and fitted out to attract and retain talent.

“The brightest minds want to work somewhere cool,” said Wilson. “Your office is your showcase to retain and attract talent.”

That’s got to be worth investing in.

This is an extract from the overview to the new UK 200: Financial Management report. To purchase the full report contact Richard Edwards on +44 (0) 207 970 4672 or email