Opening up the doors – why law firms shouldn’t hide away

Opening up the office doors again to clients’ in this so-called ‘new normal’ may appear to be going against the grain for some. However, as serious injury specialists acting for the most vulnerable clients’ in our society, it is essential that we revert to humanising the entire legal process and re-introducing meetings in person whenever it’s appropriate to do so. We know that one-size doesn’t actually fit all, and flexibility is key, but offering support at a distance may not always be appropriate. What is important, is that if the office is the right place to schedule a client meeting then we ought to be inviting them into a much more warmer and welcoming environment than we have done in the past.

Our work with the most seriously injured means that many of our clients already often feel overwhelmed and nervous during the litigation process. Having to cope with their life-changing injuries, whether that’s physical or emotional, can be really challenging and complex at times. As their legal representatives, it should be our job to create a more re-assuring environment and not put them through any additional unnecessary stress.

With virtual meetings on the rise, and with decreased social interactions for such a sustained period during the pandemic, many clients now meeting their wider legal team in person may be feeling an increased level of nervousness. As a law firm that is extremely proud to represent vulnerable clients, it’s our job to make sure that we truly evoke a positive experience from the minute they walk through our front door. Any legal practice re-thinking their office design in this changing landscape, really ought to be seriously thinking about their client experience and how we leave them feeling, taking into account the indelible mark that the last couple of years may have left on them.

It isn’t just important to us a business for measuring our client care, but it is also an important factor for our future talent. On a wider level, generation Z really want to work for organisations that stand for a purpose beyond simply making a profit and want to feel that their work is making a positive societal impact for the people that they represent. The future office is an agile, flexible, cultural hub, but it should also be a space where both our lawyers and clients can connect and collaborate too.  Creating an environment that both entices staff back to the office and produces a welcoming feeling for our clients’ has to be a positive step forward.

Despite a cultural shift towards virtual interactions and meetings, the need for professional legal teams to meet their clients’ face-to-face shouldn’t be depleted altogether. Of course, creating a better office environment for our clients is not the determining factor as to whether they will instruct us or not, neither is it likely to result in more exceptional client feedback on our levels of service. However, making sure that the office is an inviting and welcoming space that oozes a feeling of calm can only be beneficial to those that we represent in our industry.

Despite some top law firms scrambling to secure office spaces in the City of London over the past year, many have decided to downsize or continue to work remotely on a more permanent basis. Obviously, one-size doesn’t fit all and each legal practice will have differing needs depending on their work areas and their clientele. Litigation and dispute resolution practises will certainly have different needs to that of commercial lawyers. Every organisation and culture is different, and so are the circumstances of every client. However, in serious injury work, firms should be carefully thinking about the environment they are exposing their clients to when re-thinking the look and feel of a new office space. So how does this all translate into office design?

Traditionally law firms have been hiding away behind rather imposing reception desks in featureless buildings. The hard edges of a corporate office environment have only served to create an overwhelming and stressful environment for our already vulnerable clients. Post pandemic, law firms have been forced to re-think the role and purpose of an office, and many are now breaking the mould from the look of a traditional law firm and becoming bolder with their design and landscape. It certainly has to be a better environment than the alternate meeting space – whether that’s a virtual set up, a hired space or coffee shop. Evoking that ‘home away from home’ feeling is a good start.

At Bolt Burdon Kemp, our new office is purposely designed to open the doors to clients in a much more friendly and relaxed way. We have moved towards creating an environment that’s non-institutional, inviting and calming. We welcome our clients’ into a non-traditional type café- lounge with big open windows looking out onto the street to create an open and airy, relaxed, and friendly environment that instils an instant feeling of calm. With the introduction of biophilic design elements, including lush planting and natural textures and tones, our office space is designed to improve wellbeing whilst reducing levels of stress. This overall concept is anchored across the entire building.

Thinking about our clients’ experience and making sure that they remain comfortable, calm and relaxed in a legal office environment in any ‘serious injury’ practice ought to be a key consideration for any law firm re-thinking their office landscape in the future.

 

Rhicha Kapila, Partner and Chief Operating Officer, Bolt Burdon Kemp

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