Boston can be slow to embrace big changes. Boston’s staid legal community, even slower.
But at least one major law firm is mixing it up. Nixon Peabody has hired a brokerage to find new local digs before its lease expires in the 100 Summer St. tower in early 2019. The twist? The firm’s CEO doesn’t want the new office to look much like the old one.
Ideally, the wood-paneled walls would be replaced by glass ones, and there would be more common spaces. Standing desks would abound. The longstanding practice of granting bigger offices to attorneys who become partners could be jettisoned.
Chief executive Andrew Glincher has already pulled off similar revamps — starting with his firm’s Washington office and then in Los Angeles, with changes coming to the firm’s New York office next.
Saving money is an important factor. The law firm industry as a whole is facing tremendous pushback from clients about the fees they’re charged. Nixon Peabody is no exception, although its revenue remained stable last year, roughly flat at $458 million.
Nixon Peabody leases about 168,000 square feet in Boston now, but Glincher would like to pare that back to the 100,000- to 120,000-square-foot range. He said the Boston office’s workforce — 300-plus people, including nearly 140 lawyers — wouldn’t change in size, at least not in a meaningful way.
“My hope is . . . there’s a greater feeling of openness and transparency and collaboration,” Glincher said. “It creates a more energetic environment.”
The extent to which Glincher will be able to duplicate what he’s done in those other offices will depend on the space that his firm picks. He’s working with brokerage Newmark Grubb Knight Frank and hopes to find a building with open floor plans, a blank canvas of sorts that could allow for this reinvention.
Architect Dan Perruzzi said Nixon Peabody’s approach is ahead of the curve among Boston’s legal circles. But he expects to see similar changes at other local firms as their leases expire.
There are two driving factors for this emerging trend, aside from the budgetary ones. First, there are all the startup and biotech clients that law firms want to attract. “They’ve got clients working in open collaboration spaces and they’re working in something that looks like it was done in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” said Perruzzi, a principal at Margulies Perruzzi Architects in Boston.
Younger lawyers are voicing their skepticism about the old model, particularly as they become partners. “They know that some of their clients are spending a lot less on real estate,” Perruzzi said.
Goodwin Procter confronted similar issues during the design of its new office in the Seaport. Alex Randall, the Goodwin partner who oversees leasing, design, and construction for the firm, said he pushed for more openness, with glass walls replacing wood. One key element in the new office, which opened last year, is an open stairway with clear views of the harbor that links all of Goodwin’s 12 floors.
“It became a game-changer in terms of the amount of interaction within the workplace,” Randall said.
The skepticism that he faced about the changes has largely gone away now that everyone has settled into the new digs.
“People were very nervous about the lack of privacy,” Randall said. “[But] I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, ‘You were so right about this.’ ”Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.