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How Two Of DC's Recent Law Firm Movers Are Adapting To Their New Offices

Two DC law firms that have recently moved offices, Venable and Bracewell, have pushed the envelope for law firm office design with more collaborative space, amenities and glass walls. The firms' partners say the new offices are changing the way they do business. 

Brian Schwalb Venable
Venable partner-in-charge Brian Schwalb at Bisnow's Associations & Law Firms event

Venable moved into 245K SF in the newly built 600 Massachusetts Ave. NW at the end of February. One of the main improvements from the firm's old space at Terrell Place is the integration between different parts of the office, partner-in-charge Brian Schwalb said.

The office has an interior staircase running from floors four through 10 and individual office walls are made of transparent glass. These changes increase the likelihood of people running into each other in the hallway and sharing ideas, Schwalb said. 

"The experience for our people when they come in now is ‘we see much more of one another, we see each other on a regular informal day,'" Schwalb said at Bisnow's Real Estate Strategies for Law Firms & Associations event. "That creates a lot more camaraderie, it enhances the culture and it's great for business development." 

Just three and a half blocks away from the firm's previous office across from the Verizon Center, the new location has not affected commutes but is less noisy and crowded, Schwalb said.

Venable Rooftop 600 mass
One of the rooftop courtyards at Venable's new 600 Massachusetts Ave. NW office

Venable's new office has three rooftop terraces with a bocce court, a fire pit, a kegerator and barbecue grills. Its amenities include a golf simulator and a spa-style gym. 

"The biggest fear we have candidly is people are just going to stop practicing law and they will just be hanging out having fun, which we can’t completely allow to happen," Schwalb said.  

They seem to be able to do both though, he said, remembering a time recently when he saw one of the firm's legislative lawyers walking on a treadmill desk while reading congressional testimony.

Cushman & Wakefield law firm advisory group leader Sherry Cushman, the event's moderator, said having more senior experienced lawyers using amenities like this is key to getting the whole firm on board. 

"If partners don’t lead the effort, you’re going to have associates thinking, ‘Well I’m not going in there because they’re going to think I’m goofing off,'" Cushman said. "So a lot of this has to be driven by the older generation of the law firm."

Bracewell Partner Mark Lewis
Bracewell partner Mark Lewis at Bisnow's Associations & Law Firms event

Bracewell has occupied its new 50K SF office at Brookfield's 2001 M St. NW for just over a year. Partner Mark Lewis said it is the most modern office in the firm's national portfolio and has been well-received by its lawyers, staff and clients. One of the keys to its success was balancing collaborative space with the need for privacy. 

"Some folks said, 'Millennials don’t want their own offices, they want to be able to share with people,'" Lewis said. "When I brought that up with our associates they said that’s absolutely not the case. They want to have collaborative space but they also want to have their own offices." 

Like Venable's new space, Bracewell's office also features glass interior walls, which Lewis said brings more light in and has allowed for greater collaboration. 

Bracewell conference center
The conference room on the ninth floor of Bracewell's new 2001 M St. NW office

When redeveloping the building before Bracewell's move-in, Brookfield created two "super floors" with 14-foot ceilings on the ninth and 10th floors. Gensler practice area leader Christian Amolsch, who designed the space, said the tall ceilings and the large conference center were key in making Bracewell's new office a success. 

"To have that tall conference center front and center to be able to allow people to circulate through both vertically and horizontally was tremendous for them," Amolsh said. "It transformed how they operated themselves internally as well as the client experience." 

Christian Amolsch Dave Bevirt
Gensler practice area leader Christian Amolsch and Brookfield head of DC leasing Dave Bevirt

Brookfield has also signed law firms Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz for 33K SF and Weil Gotshal & Manges for 65K SF at 2001 M. Brookfield's head of DC leasing, Dave Bevirt, said the key to attracting these tenants was putting in amenities like a rooftop terrace, a fitness center and a golf simulator.

But having the amenities is not enough, Bevirt said. He brought in a third-party company that will meet with tenants every two weeks to program events like yoga, spin classes and guest speakers. Brookfield is testing the program and plans to roll it out in four of its DC buildings. 

"We want to make certain the amenities are not static," Bevirt said. "If we’re going to invest all of this money, we want to make sure there’s good utilization."