Why Your Firm Should Throw Nautical Décor Out To Sea

Who doesn’t like a ship in a bottle? It turns out, most generations under the age of 65.

So, law firms are setting sail toward new contemporary decor, leaving behind nautical ornaments and outdated office accouterments.

Although some equity partners may shake their heads at the frivolry, the truth is, clients and employees care about the décor of an office. When clients enter an advertising firm, for example, the surrounds speak to the creativity and design of the team.

Law firms should strive to send the same message to their clients, that work ethic, creativity, and productivity levels—like standards for interior design—are high.

“Law firms tend to be bastions of Old World stuff,” Lauren Jennings, managing partner, Posternak Blankstein & Lund, said to the Boston Globe, “but if you walk into almost any other kind of service, from advertising agencies to even our clients’ offices, they aren’t fuddy-duddy like that.”

In a recession, careless décor can send the wrong signal to potential clients that the firm is in financial trouble. Enough oil paintings of eerie-looking ex-partners will send them running for the poorly-hung door.

Law offices do not have to emulate Google’s working-environment strategy, with ping-pong tables in the staff room and mohair rugs. But, they should eschew conventional mahogany desks and wood-paneled partitions that scream to new clients, “our firm partners, like our walls, do not embrace change.”

It goes without saying, however, redecorating should not be the reason why your firm stays in the red.

When it comes to décor choices, Mark Montgomery, founder of FLOthinkery and entrepreneur-in-residence at Nashville, Tenn.-based VC firm Claritas Capital, advises Entrepreneur magazine that companies should remain practical.

“When I go into a startup burning $300,000 a month, and they’ve got posh offices with great furniture, I immediately think the leadership team’s priorities are in the wrong place,” he said to Entrepreneur.

The idea is to make your office space reflect the attitude of your firm, not its accounting.

“We didn’t want anything that was going to make our clients walk in and say, ‘Gee, how much did I pay for that?’” Jennings said to the Boston Goble. Posternak Blankstein & Lund, a 55-lawyer firm, spent $53,000 on art.

“This modern look is more in keeping with who a lot of our middle-market clients are, and it shows them we identify with what’s going on in the world today, rather than with what the traditional law firm was 100 years ago.”

Boutique firms are most at risk, facing fierce BigLaw (with big bucks) competition. Luckily, clients enjoy the charm and detail-oriented nature of small firms, so it’s time to take advantage. If not during a downturn, then when?

“When you’re a boutique firm of 25 lawyers like we are, and you’re competing against the biggest and the best and the brightest, it’s important that you differentiate yourself,” Thomas E. Dwyer Jr. of Dwyer & Collora said to the Boston Globe.

Although your current budget may not support thousands of dollars of office decoration, every firm can afford to invest in innovative ideas. If unique art is what you’re after, commission a student at the local university to create a series of paintings. Or, ask the photographer son of a senior partner to provide a few themed photos to frame around the office.

Finally, look to your employees to contribute ideas on what environment encourages their productivity, as well as comfort. The best resources at law firms are the people roaming the halls.

-WB

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