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What Makes a Nice Law Office

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I was recently asked by an attorney who is opening her own practice about how to set-up her office.  Of course, opinions vary widely on what constitutes a “nice” office, and the below is not meant to provide interior decorating advice, especially since I am quite color-blind.  But I covered quite a bit of this in my book and thought it would be helpful to provide good office characteristics from the client experience perspective.

Not in need of repairs.  One of the biggest ways to turn off prospective clients is to have broken stuff in your office.  Common examples are water-stained ceiling tiles or drywall, broken or missing moldings, non-working paper dispensers in the restroom, and stained or nasty carpet.

Clean.  Where are the dirtiest places in a law office?  The client waiting room and lobby, of course, because those are the rooms the bosses never see.  Keeping your office environment clean should go without saying, but I see dirty ones all the time.  The most commons issues are dirty windows, bathroom toilets, counters, and sinks, and fingerprints or scuff marks on the conference room walls.  Paint and carpeting are very inexpensive and can completely change the appearance of a room… or two.  Clutter free is key, at least in the areas that clients will see.

Bathroom.  Have the following…

  • Working toilets, sinks, and paper dispensers
  • Keep extra toilet paper visible as well as disposable hand towels.  Use a soft soap dispenser, not bar soap, and don’t have washable hand towels unless they are embroidered with your logo and only there for decoration.  Also, keep environmentally-friendly spray for smells, and a plunger under the vanity for emergencies.
  • Most importantly, have a loud fan or radio if the bathroom is within ear-shot of other offices or rooms where people will be. No one wants others to hear them using the restroom.
  • Daily cleanings. At a minimum, bathroom fixtures should be wiped down every day and should be deep-cleaned once per week.  Trash removal every day is an absolute necessity.

Background noise.  I’m 50/50 on music being piped throughout the entire office, but certainly it’s nice to have some easy listening tunes in the lobby to bring down client stress and keep conversations private.

Cold, individually packaged refreshments.  All visitors to the office, whether a prospective client, salesperson, or friend should be offered soda, coffee, or a bottle of water.  Train your staff to ask “what can I get you to drink?  We have cans of soda, bottled water, or fresh coffee.”  Some people would like a bottle of water, but not a glass of it.  Accommodate them.

Exterior:

Signage.  Usually, the larger the better and further from the office, the better.  But at a minimum, your clients should be able to see your sign on the building or immediately upon entering it.  Make sure if there are a number of businesses listed on a screen that your firm name is listed, as well as each individual attorney.  A new client may know they are coming to see Mr. Smith, but may not know your firm is Daniel B. Cooper, P.C.  Also, put a logo on all signs if possible to enhance brand awareness.

Landscaping:  Remove dead bushes.  Mulch or pine straw flower beds twice per year.  Clean up the parking lot, especially trash and cigarette butts.  Make sure shrubs are cut away from sidewalks or pathways.

No smoking in view.  If you have smokers, provide a space for them to indulge that is out of the sight of clients.

Confidentiality.  Never discuss client business in ear-shot of non-employees.  This includes staff-to-staff conversations, as well as those between staff members and clients.  Always ask a client to come into the back of the office, even if it’s to tell them one sentence.

Safety.  Install handrails and non-slip surfaces on steps, mark changes in elevation with yellow paint, put down water absorbing rugs to wipe wet feet when it’s raining.  Ensure all areas a client may access are handicap accessible.  Have an umbrella bucket next to the door with umbrellas in it that you can offer visitors to take home when it’s raining.

Something for kids.  It may be very rare that a younger child is in your office, but it will happen eventually.  Keep a drawer with something to entertain children.  Sticker books are a good choice, as are coloring books with crayons.  Also keep kid-friendly refreshments such as non-staining juice boxes and healthy snacks.

Mints and candy.  Nerves can result in dry mouth.  Long meetings can wreak havoc on fresh breath.  Always have mints or hard candy available in the lobby and conference rooms.

Logo glassware.  Depositions are a great time to show off the quality of your firm, and a nice touch is new glassware with your firm’s logo.  Make an investment in a quality serving tray, coasters, glasses and mugs, as well as an ice bucket and tongs.

Walls.  In addition to whatever you prefer for décor, put the following on your walls, and do so where everyone who enters your office will see:

  • Award plaques
  • Media coverage. Articles from newspapers, magazines, or other publications.  (Have these made into plaques so that the quality is very good.)
  • Community service photos and letters of appreciation
  • Mission Statement in a nice frame with professional design.
  • Undergraduate and law school diplomas.
  • Painting of any deceased firm members.
  • Photos of the office construction, ribbon cutting, attorneys receiving awards or with important people (e.g. Supreme Court Justice, Mayor)

A nice office won’t necessarily produce a bunch of new business just like a bad office doesn’t automatically cause you to lose business.  But the reality is that you spent a ton of time, money, and effort to become a lawyer and having an objectively nice place for your practice falls under the “right way to do things” category.

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