Bingham’s L. Tracee Whitley, COO; Doneen Hobbs, Senior Director, Global Services Center; and Sherri Bracken, CAO.PHOTO BY EMILY MOSELEY
Bingham McCutchen’s Lexington-based global services center doesn’t look like a law firm. Jay Zimmerman, the firm’s chairman, takes pride in that observation, which holds true for many of the firm’s other offices around the world, in addition to the newly opened facility at Coldstream Research Campus. The days of rich mahogany shelves adorned with leather-bound books are gone for this firm, which boasts nearly $900 million in annual revenue with 1,000 attorneys and 900 staff members worldwide.
“As an organization, we’ve gotten away from that dark wood for a long time,” said Zimmerman of the Boston-based firm. “The nature of everything is change. [In the past] probably every lawyer had a secretary," but now technology has made it easier for attorneys to keep track of most everything themselves.
The new mentality built into the building’s design emphasizes the importance of employees working with each other more directly.
“We’ve got to focus more and more on collaboration,” Zimmerman said. “Historically, legal space was never built out to encourage collaboration. Everyone would tend to sit in [his or her] office.”
While the Global Service Center is loaded with technology and is dependent upon it, Zimmerman said technology is responsible for the death of the lone area of collaboration that existed in the old-style law office: the library.
“We’ve tried to replace that with things like cafeterias and gyms, but collaboration remains the key,” he said. “There is no substitute for people sitting around, talking, seeing each other.”
Employees at the Lexington office sit at desks in open, bullpen-like areas, ringed by collaborative zones such as cafes and “huddle rooms.” The company’s chief operating officer, L. Tracee Whitley, and the center’s director, Doneen Hobbs, include their own workspaces in this open office design.
“Everything about collaboration is what we wanted to encourage here,” said Whitley, who relocated from the firm’s Boston headquarters. “Our ethos is also very much reflected in this space that we’ve designed, to have the senior people out in the benches.”
Employees are issued laptops that can be docked at any station in the office, including their regular desktops or the available gathering rooms, ranging from huddle rooms to large-scale conference rooms. The laptops can be connected to large flat-screen televisions for presentations or web conferences with the firm’s offices around the globe.
Acoustical issues have also been addressed in the four large open spaces on each floor. Sherri Bracken, the firm’s chief administrative officer, said “pink noise” is piped into the areas to neutralize ambient sound. Similar to white noise, Bracken said pink noise has a constant sound, more similar to wind than white-noise static.
“It is less harsh to your ears,” she said. “We have it throughout the entire space, and it can be adjusted by area, depending on decibels.”
Zimmerman said some aspects of the office’s design have been tailored to its primary function as a services center.
“If we created an office for a large group of lawyers, it probably wouldn’t look quite like this,” he said.
Both Zimmerman and Bracken said lawyers couldn’t be expected to practice in open office environments due to confidentiality issues, for example, although the Lexington office also has areas where business can be conducted more privately.
“Part of the training program people go through is confidentiality and our responsibility in that regard, and everyone is really sensitive to that,” Bracken said. “It isn’t so much of an issue here, but in some of the spaces you’ll see a film on the [glass] doors, so these rooms could be used for more confidential stuff than our other rooms might.”
The large conference rooms have one wall designed for acoustic buffering and another covered in writable white glass, situated so it cannot be viewed from the outside.
The building is also equipped with a wellness room for those who might need a few moments to catch their breath or recline, and a “mother room” where nursing mothers can express breast milk during the workday.
Zimmerman appreciates that the new design focuses on the core, not only in terms of the center’s function but also its facility.
“Historically, your perimeter tended to be nice and airy, and your interior didn’t. It’d be dark and not fitted out as well,” he said. “This space is for everybody, which is our view across the board.”