Miller Johnson's move benefits team members as well as clients



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Miller Johnson’s new high-profile office space combines a number of  fresh design ideas and recently-developed technologies into an environment that is distinctively conducive of good employee morale.

The likely reason? Long before the bricks-and-mortar phase, the firm spent lots of time considering the values it wanted to embody in the space.
As Managing Member Craig Mutch explained on Monday in preparation for a tour of the new offices at Arena Place, the firm’s Strategic Planning
Committee  took a good hard look at what would best serve clients as well as Miller Johnson’s people.

The result is a space that recognizes changes potentially coming in law practice over the next decades, and allows for a broad range of choices as to how clients will access services. As just one example, differently-sized conference rooms on the 11th floor — which is primarily dedicated to reception and client spaces — offer opportunities for private, confidential mediations with nearby, easily-accessible rooms for one-on-one or small group consultation. There are now 18 conference rooms, whereas before there were ten.

An internal staircase will allow for both private comings and goings as well as facilitate the collaborative spirit.

The same choice-based philosophy holds for the team members at Miller Johnson, who can choose to stand up at their desks, video-conference with people internally or off-site, sit in comfortable chairs and chat, or take a break at the cafeteria or at the downstairs Wheelhouse Restaurant, which will open later this year

Mutch said that the firm’s committees originally intended to investigate new spaces within the traditional business district where Miller Johnson’s former office, on Calder Plaza, and the courthouse are.

However, when they heard about the exciting plans for Arena Place, which is at 45 Ottawa St. S.W. next to the Van Andel Arena, the firm members quickly saw the potential. and remembered it had decided to “dare to be different.” Arena Place was originally intended to be five stories tall, but when Miller Johnson signed on as an anchor tenant, the profile shot up to 11 floors, of which the law firm occupies the top four.

Another innovative idea is reflected in the fact that all offices are the same size; this not only supports teamwork, employee morale and collaboration, but also winds up saving space.

“We’ve been here for two weeks, and everyone is walking around smiling,” says Sara Lachman, a litigator who specializes in the construction and real estate fields. She says she finds so much of the new design “frictionless,” and notes, “The whole eleventh floor is striking, not dark and heavy like the traditional law firm look, so it’s not intimidating for clients.”

The mixed-use nature of Arena Place means a range of work-live-play amenities for the Miller Johnson team.

“We want to drive recruitment and retention,” said employment and labor attorney Nate Plantinga, who serves on the firm’s recruitment committee. “We’re putting into practice what so many of my clients are looking to do.”

He also notes that, even in the short amount of time he has been an attorney, “The practice of law has become instant,” necessitating different technologies.

New technology systems allow, for example, for family law attorneys or estate planners helping elders to use custom software to engage clients face-to-face even though not in the same place. There is the capacity for attorneys to see their clients at the same time as documents drawn from a variety of sources.

The philosophy behind the technology is, as throughout the new space, not about “glitz and glamour,” but about making it all better and easier