DLA Piper is setting up an exhibition space for London teams to “experience an open plan environment” ahead of its planned office move in 2018.

“We are going to mock up a part of the floor of the new building and we are going to put two of the favourite furniture selections in there. We are going to get people to come through and express their preference for it,” DLA Piper COO Andrew Darwin said. The space will be fully operational.

As part of the move, the firm has put in place 80 ‘change champions’ from within the firm, who are engaging with people in the practices to help with the transition to open plan, and to work towards becoming completely paperless.

“We are getting the change champions to get their teams in and sit on the chairs and look at the desking and work in there.”

“They are going to go from one environment one day to another environment another day, and you have got to process that,” London managing partner Tom Heylen said. “Client service can’t stop for a second. It’s quite a logistical exercise, to move out of this building and move into another without a blip in the client service.”

The firm started searching for a new office space in 2015 and were looking at a lot of buildings that were coming on the market. “Inevitably they were all done on the traditional lawyer cellular layout,” Darwin said.

“We won’t be doing a fit-out every five years, so the problem with these cellular fit-outs is that if you want to move people around, it involves taking down walls, and this is meant to be more flexible. Departments grow and shrink and you want the flexibility to be able to do that.”

The firm has opted for a “hybrid layout” office, with a ratio of 25 per cent offices and 75 per cent open plan spaces.

“There was a big debate over when we were going to use the ‘O’ word,” Darwin said. “There are a lot of preconceptions about this stuff.”

“If you’re sitting in open plan, you’ll be next to the window,” Darwin said.

The new office will be fitted out with soundproof rooms nearby to the open plan spaces, so that lawyers can continue to have confidential conversations.

The firm has used both Manchester and Sydney as models for what they plan to do in London. The transformation in Sydney was significant. “We had 13 kilometres of cupboards,” Darwin said. “We measured it. When you have to move offices, you have to measure the space. It is a heavily litigation practice, and we moved to this hybrid design and I think the experience of seeing how it’s different was good.”

“We asked every partner if they wanted offices, and we have ended up with too many offices,”  Heylen said.

This is a good thing, because in this office move, DLA plans to merge its staff in two different buildings in one, across five different floors – which involved re-calculating space needs. “The firm has calculated that the utilisation of desks are at around 60 per cent,” Darwin explained. “We aren’t going to do hot-desking, that’s a step too far – but we are going to make the building agile-ready.”

As part of the CEO challenge launched earlier this year, the firm has introduced a ‘wellness suite’, which includes an in-house fitness room and an interfaith room.

“We believe that London will grow –  as the flagship office we are expected to. As a firm, we don’t think Brexit is going to make a difference,” Darwin said.