Fisher Phillips’ decision to double its office space in downtown Denver was driven by rapid growth in attorneys and staff, but in the midst of a global pandemic, the upsizing has another important advantage: more room for social distancing.
The firm on June 29 announced it has moved to 1125 17th Street, where it occupies the entire 24th floor for a total area of more than 20,000 square feet, up from around 10,000 at its previous space. The roomier digs counter a trend toward smaller physical footprints for law firms, both nationally and in Denver.
Regional managing partner Mike Greco said the bigger space was needed to accommodate the office’s “tremendous growth” in recent years. The firm opened its doors in Denver in 2008 and has tripled in size since then to 22 attorneys and 20 staff.
“We were filled to the gills,” Greco said of the old office. “There was not an empty seat to be had anywhere in the place.”
The firm was originally scheduled to move in April, but the mounting threat of COVID-19 and a switch to remote work in March threw a wrench into the moving process.
“I won’t say things got put on hold, they got more complicated,” Greco said. “So all the final touches — the last things that you put into a space when you’re moving in — slowed down somewhat.” He added the pandemic made it more difficult for attorneys to pack up their things at the previous office. He credits Denver office manager Heather Hersey with overcoming the logistical hurdles created by the pandemic and coordinating the move to allow for social distancing.
While they weren’t expecting a pandemic when they signed the new lease last year, the upgrade in space has made it safer for employees to return to the office. The firm currently has half of its employees working remotely and half in the office on rotation.
“Obviously, with the enlarged footprint, social distancing is a lot easier than it would have been in the old space,” Greco said.
Some of the safety measures Fisher Phillips adopted include a temperature monitoring and sanitizing station outside the office, where employees and guests take their temperature and certify that they haven’t been experiencing any symptoms before entering. Protective gear such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and wipes are available as soon as visitors step off the elevator.
The sky-fold doors separating conference rooms have been opened to allow for maximum room to spread out, and there is a garage-style door between the kitchen and common area that opens and closes automatically so people can avoid touching handles in the high-traffic hub.
In-person meetings with clients and visitors are still discouraged for the time being, and Greco said they are monitoring public health data and trends daily to adjust their plans and office policies.
The pandemic brought speculation about a long-term trend toward remote work, with some even predicting the “end of the office.” But Greco said while the legal industry might become more flexible in its work-from-home policies after the pandemic, having a physical location will remain crucial for collaboration and firm culture.
“I think in the legal profession, we owe a duty to our younger associates to train them, and it would be much more difficult to train them if we were substantially absent from the office,” he said.
Some of the practice areas at Fisher Phillips, which focuses on employment law, are paper-intensive and require space for filing, printing and scanning, Greco added, citing immigration and its many application forms as an example. It also helps to gather litigators in the same war room to map out the facts of a case and prepare for trial, he said.
According to Greco, there’s no set timeline for when everyone will be back to working under one roof, and they’ll continue to adapt to new guidelines and information. “You have to constantly take stock of what you can and what you should do,” he said. “That’s the plan for the foreseeable future.”
“I know from speaking to people in the office, they want to come in here and be able to see each other. But we’ve got to balance that with the current health demands.”
The new office is Platinum LEED-certified and employees have access to an on-site gym, Starbucks and, according to a news release, “a regular rotation of food trucks.” In addition to offering more space, Greco said the building’s location in the central business district just blocks from Union Station and the 16th Street Mall offers more transit options compared to the firm’s old spot near 18th and California.