Telling Your Story
Matt Jackson in Workplace Design, law firms

Image © Gensler

For law firms of all sizes and scope, personality is an essential component of a firm’s DNA. Every firm is unique, and a firm’s individual character, alongside its reputation, is often what differentiates it from competitors and attracts clients and future recruits.

In the modern era of the legal practice, a time when mergers and acquisitions have played a strong part in shaping the landscape, the personality of firms are blended together to create new hybrids of original partnerships or alliances of firms that in the past seemed poles apart in terms of working culture and personality.

Two recent examples of firms joining forces that are very different in everyday workplace are Speechly Bircham and Charles Russell, and Lawrence Graham and Wragge and Co. Both of these mergers bring together a combination of open plan and cellular fee earner practice floors, and it will be very interesting to see how the long term cultural and property strategies develop for these newly created firms.

Every law firm has a story. Some have long histories stretching back over a century. Others are next generation law firms with regional roots and ambitions on becoming a global player. Every firm has some heritage and history that has in one way or another played a part in defining where that business is today. Some firms stem from individuals who helped put them on the map. Others have historical connections with certain regions or parts of the world. And then some are known for a specialist area of expertise that sets them apart from the crowd.

Telling a story via an environment can be a challenge and that story does not have be told as an obvious narrative, some firms may want obvious, bold and strong message, but others may like the notion of delicately interweaving their design with a story via finishes, form or objects.

Often a brief may involve taking a design language around the globe and maintaining a consistent look and feel to every office of a firm. This occasionally can mean everything in the composition and approach, but more than often a regional story must also be told to represent the local partnership and its locality. The backdrop can always be timeless, but the foreground is an opportunity.

If a firm has merged with a global super power lawyer, its long term partnership will want to keep some of its long term history and values meshed into the visible design of front of house areas. You cannot lose all this character in the signing of a merger.

Recently, Gensler has worked with a diverse spread of law firms, ranging from niche market boutique firms to global operators. Every one of these projects has had its own way of illustrating the individual character and face of the organisation. Bracewell & Giuliani, a firm that specializes in energy issues and has a rich history, follows a design scheme that echoes its heritage through finishes and found objects. Debevoise and Plimpton illustrate the presence of sharp legal eyes via sensitively procured artwork which exude attention to detail and style. This may contrast with the design language of Latham and Watkins, a firm whose character travels worldwide via a consistent family of forms and finishes creating a timeless backdrop to the foreground design detail of their location city.

Some legal firms have very outgoing public images that present themselves with interesting personalities. Mishcon De Reya is a great example; the fabulous lifestyle type movies on their next generation website portray a fantastic inner culture and announce the firm as a great place to work. This openness is perhaps part of an attraction from new industry sector clients that has seen them grow in numbers over the past few years. They seem to be trying to make legal services feel more accessible and transparent. As Mishcon develop their new headquarters, many of us wonder if their story and culture will be embraced within their environment.

We feel that finding that uniqueness within any business is essential, and understanding where it can fit into a design scheme in the most effective manner is a very rewarding process to both designer and client. It provides the host an understanding of how to tell their story to visitors without an obvious narrative. Even telling this story to themselves re-enforces the firm’s character and values through a design language.

Matt is a Workplace Design Director and Practice Area Leader for Professional Service Firms in the EMEA region. His career has revolved around the progressive workplace with focus on design, and how this can be delivered to the project in the most appropriate way for the client. Matt has worked within the creative design of the workplace for 20 years, and been a part of many significant milestone projects in the industry including key step changes for large retailers, top legal firms and financial service providers. Contact him at
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