No Objections: Kilpatrick Townsend Reimagines the Law Office

Fall 2014
Kilpatrick Townsend’s Atlanta law library square footage was cut in half, since most law materials now are available on the company’s digital network. Photos courtesy of Cooper Carry

The way people work is changing, and law firms like Kilpatrick Townsend are leading the charge in creating workspaces that accommodate advances in technology and meet employees’ new expectations of office space. Law firms must abandon traditional workspace in order to work more efficiently and to attract and retain clients and top talent.

Kilpatrick Townsend, which has 17 offices worldwide and a corporate headquarters in Midtown Atlanta, asked Cooper Carry in 2009 to partner with the firm on three major construction projects. The next three years were comprised of back-to-back-to-back design and construction efforts, totaling more than 337,000 square feet of new or renovated interior space, in the major markets of Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C.

Changes in Law Firm Design

Law firm design has evolved since Cooper Carry’s first project for Kilpatrick Townsend 20 years ago. It is critically important that each new office reflect the latest philosophies on how law firms work and operate. One of these key changes involves the increasing ratios of senior attorneys to legal administrative support.

In the past, each partner would be assigned his or her own legal secretary, who also would serve two or three associate partners. This was considered an essentially 1:1 ratio. Emerging trends have moved this ratio near 4:1, with some firms pushing closer to 5:1. This increasing senior attorney-to-administrative support ratio means that square footage previously allocated for legal secretaries can be redistributed to other uses, such as increased paralegal staff, flexible work areas for casework or additional attorney offices.

interior office space in a law office

Dedicated legal secretary stations on all four corners of the attorney practice floors open up the corners visually and make it easier for attorneys to seek administrative assistance.

A second evolving area in law firm design is the need for adaptability and change within the work environment. Law firms with all fixed-wall offices, file rooms, support spaces and more have been forced to work within the confines of their existing space or undergo expensive, time-consuming renovations to accommodate changing needs. To alleviate this problem, firms are building modular spaces that can be adapted to serve multiple purposes. Cooper Carry accomplished this in different ways on each Kilpatrick Townsend project.

With so many offices around the globe, each with its own distinct national and regional culture, Kilpatrick Townsend was open to the idea that each of its offices could look and feel different. The firm’s leaders felt it was important to give “ownership” of the office designs to the local attorneys and staff. This allowed Cooper Carry to explore different and distinct design ideas for each space while also creating a sense of buy-in for the user groups in each market.

Tackling the Corporate Office

Cooper Carry’s first project was the consolidation and renovation of Kilpatrick Townsend’s 19-year-old corporate headquarters at the 1100 Peachtree building in Atlanta. When the project began, the firm’s Atlanta headquarters occupied about 300,000 square feet on 13 floors. Efficient design, compression and reclaiming underutilized square footage resulted in a consolidation of the office to only 10 floors. When completed, the project totaled approximately 227,000 square feet and included one floor of administration space, seven attorney practice group floors and two floors of public conference, library and dining facilities.

The administrative floor was the first to be renovated. That phase consisted of the relocation of a large firmwide copy and support center, the construction of new restrooms and a new break room, and the replacement of all finishes and lighting.

The next phases of construction focused on renovating the practice group floors. This was a challenging process, since the firm needed to continue to operate during construction. It was able to do so because of extensive coordination among the building owner, landlord, contractor and design team. The strategy employed consisted of a nine-phase construction schedule during a 14-month period, in which an entire practice group would “swing” down to one of the three floors that ultimately were given up, thus allowing the contractor to renovate the vacated floor. Once the renovation was complete, furniture was moved in and a practice group would swing back upstairs to its new home, often on a different floor than before.

Going Green

Further challenging the design effort was the firm’s decision to pursue LEED Gold ID+C (interior design and construction) for commercial interiors certification. Sustainability has proven key to attracting top talent fresh out of law school as well as new clients. A few months before construction, the landlord announced that the building would pursue LEED EB (existing building) certification, which helped lend a number of credits toward the desired interior sustainability goal.

With an existing space and existing mechanical systems, the team sought other avenues for the necessary LEED credits. Some of the major contributors include a completely new lighting system with extensive occupancy sensors, new carpet with a very high percentage of recycled content that was installed with glue-free Interface TacTiles and selective reuse of existing materials such as doors, frames and wood trim. Ultimately, the office did receive LEED Gold certification.

Design Concept

The design concept for the attorney practice floors was a simple one. Cooper Carry decided to keep in place the existing exterior corridor wall that circled the entire floorplate and created a ring of associate and partner offices. Each of these offices would receive new finishes and a new high-efficiency lighting system. Everything on the inside of the perimeter office ring was demolished to make way for new flexible support spaces. The design concepts for these support spaces were driven by the aforementioned law firm trends.

hallway and office in a law office

Designer Cooper Carry chose to keep in place existing exterior corridor walls that circled the entire floorplate and created a ring of associate and partner offices. Everything inside the perimeter office ring was demolished to create more flexible support spaces, including a secondary inner ring of modular rooms.

The innermost core spaces became both low- and high-density filing rooms, break rooms, copy centers and other support areas. The balance of the space was used to create a secondary “inner ring” of modular rooms. Because these modules were built with a DIRTT Environmental Solutions demountable partition system rather than permanent walls, they can be reconfigured more easily, more quickly and less expensively than traditional rooms. Groups of three modules, called “three packs,” were created around this ring to be used for paralegal offices, “war rooms,” case assistant space, breakout conference rooms and even small library spaces.

This concept also enables the firm to remove or install partitions within each of the three-pack zones to create three single offices, one single office and one double war room, two single offices and a conference room, etc. The inner-ring design also made possible the creation of dedicated legal secretary stations at all four corners of a floor.

This design opens up the corners visually while also providing administrative space for legal secretaries, each of whom now supports up to four partners. Opening up the area between the secretaries’ workstations makes it easier for attorneys to seek administrative assistance.

Library/Dining Room

The final two phases of the Atlanta project represented the most complex and lengthy construction efforts. The top two floors of the building housed the firm’s main reception space, a large dining room for attorneys, numerous conference rooms and a large law library. The firm decided to cut its library square footage in half. (Library reduction is another major trend in law firm design, since the majority of today’s law materials are available on a company’s digital network.)

Shrinking the library opened up space that could be used to expand the existing dining room. This, in turn, allowed the firm to remove the “attorneys only” restriction and offer its dining room as an amenity for all employees, yet another trend in modern law firm design. Ornate millwork and detail fill these two “public”-facing floors and make a grand gesture to the firm’s history and stature in the Atlanta legal community. New finishes, lighting and conference room furniture punctuated this renovation and redesign.

Tackling Other Kilpatrick Townsend Offices

Once the Atlanta office was completed, Cooper Carry tackled the firm’s New York and Washington, D.C., offices (see below), employing some of the new design ideas used in the Atlanta project. The New York office, for example, features a perimeter ring of partner and associate offices, lined by an internal ring of modular offices, work rooms and support space.

Cooper Carry recently completed another renovation project for Kilpatrick Townsend in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, and has begun some analysis on a number of projects on the West Coast. The 10,000-square-foot Charlotte office is located in the heart of downtown in the iconic Hearst Tower. The firm, which had occupied two full floors in the building, decided to compress its offices into to a smaller footprint on a single floor. This has enabled Cooper Carry to reimagine the space and consolidate all of the firm’s conferencing, reception and public areas in one central, front-door location.

lobby of a law firm

A new formal reception and conferencing suite in Kilpatrick Townsend’s new New York City office is adorned with Italian travertine and recalls the timeless design of the W.R. Grace Building’s ground-floor lobby.

New York

Kilpatrick Townsend’s New York practice has been expanding for many years, so the decision to move to a new location was inevitable. The firm eventually decided to relocate to the 42nd floor of the iconic W.R. Grace Building, overlooking the majestic New York Public Library on Bryant Park. When completed, the tenant fit-out project provided 44,960 square feet of office, support and conferencing space, almost twice the size of the practice’s previous 23,000-square-foot location.

Building out a new space from scratch allowed for the most efficient use of expensive New York real estate while employing modern trends in law firm design and sustainable construction practices. An elegant reception and conferencing suite is adorned with Italian travertine and echoes the timeless lobby design found at the ground level.

For this project, Cooper Carry decided to use standard walls rather than the demountable DIRTT system employed in Atlanta. Use of a standard dimensional module, however, will enable the firm to accommodate growth and future flexibility. Placing the legal secretary support spaces at the floor’s four corners also accommodates changing partner-to-secretary ratios and creates large, open areas, making for a much more pleasant experience than the traditional cramped corridor.

One other driving design concept for this office was the creation of a centralized client reception and conferencing suite. All of the high-end public spaces are grouped on the central axis of the elevator lobby, which provides amazing views of the city. This centralization of functions also served as a budget control method, by focusing high-end finishes in one area of the project while allowing for a more fiscally responsible allocation of funds on the balance of the floor.

conference room in a law office

The corner conference room in Kilpatrick Townsend’s renovated Washington office provides views of the Washington Monument, the historic Willard Intercontinental hotel and the White House.

Washington, D.C.

In Washington, Kilpatrick Townsend undertook a renovation of its existing 65,000-square-foot facility, which spanned three floors at 607 14th St. NW in the heart of the city. Higher ratios of attorneys to support staff allowed excess square footage to become available for new shared spaces such as casework rooms and videoconferencing facilities.

This renovation offered designers many challenges similar to those they faced at the Atlanta headquarters project. The firm was located on the building’s ninth, 10th and 11th floors. Clients or guests would take the elevator to the ninth floor, where attorneys would greet them in a small, dark, internal reception space, then escort them to one of the many conference rooms scattered throughout the firm’s three floors.

In order to change this paradigm, Cooper Carry proposed a major overhaul: demolish all of the offices and support space in one corner of the 10th floor to create a new, unified reception and conferencing suite. This solution also would allow the firm to use an available exterior balcony as an amenity.

Not unlike the New York project, this major shift in thinking allowed for a concentration of high-end materials in the office’s public area and freed up conferencing space in other areas while balancing the cost of the finishes in portions of the office not seen by clients and guests.

After seven phases of in-place construction, the firm had received a top-to-bottom facelift with new finishes and lighting, recaptured square footage for filing and workrooms and increased the partner-to-secretary ratio to the same 4:1 level as the Atlanta and New York projects. One of the highlights of this project was a completely new design for the large employee break area, which is now bathed in natural light and showcases a floor-to-ceiling mural of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s original master plan painting of the city.

Without question, the most impressive transformation was the new reception and conferencing suite on the 10th floor. Visitors step off the elevator into a new reception space adorned with a natural stone floor that turns vertically to become a 100-foot-long stone-clad feature wall, linking conferencing space on both ends. A dynamic red fabric-wrapped wall creates a colorful focal point visible from multiple adjacent conference rooms. A showpiece boardroom at the end of the axis houses a spectacular 40-foot-long table complete with an integrated video conference camera lift and direct access to the exterior balcony. The corner conference room clearly serves as the office’s pièce de résistance, offering views of the White House and the Washington Monument.