Thursday, February 09, 2017

Office Layouts That Really Work

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As a result-oriented, focused-to-a-fault legal professional, it can be easy to get lost in your routine and ignore the external factors that affect your productivity. As it turns out, there are hidden consequences to this tunnel vision; in fact, the layout and decorations in your office can directly impact your creativity, morale, and efficiency - not to mention, your clients' opinions of you.

Here are several ways to ensure that your office environment is working for you and helping you grow:

Client-Friendly Environments

We know that physical barriers (i.e. walls) can get in the way of optimizing your workspace to boost collaboration and productivity, but even with limited office space and some barriers in the way, there are little things you can do to make your office more client-friendly.

As you plan your office layout, you should keep your client demographics and needs in mind. If you're a family law attorney, for example, your clients might be people facing a difficult divorce or separation - or even a custody battle. Some of your clients are likely to bring their children to your office, so you can make the office "kid-friendly" by providing toys, games, magazines or books to engage the kids while you are discussing difficult topics with your client.

If your clients include start-up companies or businesses, make your office tech-friendly and modern. Consider offering free Wi-Fi, providing chargers and plugs, and including gadgets around the office or waiting room. If you're a generalist, you can pick your most common area of practice and tailor to those clients accordingly.

Layouts that Encourage Collaboration

You have probably heard about "open workspaces" - all the major tech companies are trying to engage their employees through open spaces, shared spaces, communal areas, beanbag chairs and standing desks. While these sound like nice perks, there has been some backlash on the "open workspace" concept.

This is particularly true in professions that require a lot of focus and fewer distractions. While it's great to encourage collaboration, there has to be a happy balance between the open environment and the privacy needed to get work done.

To get the best of both worlds, consider adding a common area to your office and stocking it with fresh snacks, bright lighting, and comfortable seating. You can also utilize glass doors that provide a needed barrier, but still make the office space feel open. 

The important thing is to ensure that your team is involved in any redesigns. Measure the emotional temperature of the room - see if your team wants a communal area, separate office spaces, or (if they're feeling adventurous) the open floor plan. 

Small Changes That Can Make a Big Impact

If your budget is tight, or if you just want to start with minimal changes that will make an impact, there are a few things you can do to improve productivity and enhance workplace engagement. One interesting study showed that if you allow employees to decorate their office or workspace as they see fit, they will be more engaged. Simply allowing them to "make it their own" will ensure that they personalize the space and feel more comfortable in their environment.

A couple additional things to keep in mind (as suggested by Fastcompany) are to "hide all the wires" and "bring the outside in." Essentialy, you should remove all distractions and roadblocks, and add some plants to your office. There have been studies that suggest employees who have plants in their office are happier overall.

At a recent networking event in Chicago, an architect pointed out that just placing your coffee maker near a window can improve your employees' moods. Seeing light, sky, or nature boosts individuals' moods and thereby creates a positive ambience. Think about whether you can move things around (like furniture, plants, or most-used appliances or office equipment) - consider whether or not you can place them near windows or even near plants to boost employees' moods.

The Right Colors to Add

There are some colors that enhance productivity, and others that enhance sleep. Mixing them up could pose a real challenge for your employees. Colors like sapphire blue and emerald green make it difficult to focus. While white may seem like an easy choice, it can actually make a floor plan feel "sterile," so even adding subtle color will make a big difference.

Keep in mind your workforce, and interestingly enough, their gender. Bland grays, beiges and whites induce feelings of sadness and depression, especially for women; while men experience similar feelings around purple and orange.

So what's the best blend to make everyone happy and engaged? While sapphire blue and emerald green are bad choices, restful green and calming blue (colors in Mother Nature's palette) are ideal. They improve efficiency and focus. If you want something a little more optimistic, a mellow yellow just might do the trick. It encourages happiness and innovation.

If your office is bland, give it a pop of subtle color and a fresh new look and feel for the new year.

Flexible Work Schedules

No, providing flexible work schedules is not a "makeover" per se. While this does not require you to change your physical work space, it would give your employees the opportunity to change their work environments and work from home, a coffee shop, a library, or a shared workspace, like WeWork.

Regardless of their choice, just giving employees the opportunity to work in a space that feels comfortable for them can boost their productivity.

Background Noise and Music

If you cannot offer flexible work schedules, consider adding "background noise." A startup called Coffitivity uses research-backed "noise" to improve productivity.

As they state on their site: "According to a peer-reviewed study out of the University of Chicago, 'A moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition.' In a nutshell, this means being a tiny bit distracted helps you be more creative. This is why those AHA moments happen when we're brushing our teeth, taking a shower, or mowing the lawn! If we're not focused too much at a task at hand, we come up with awesome stuff. In the coffee shop, the chatter and clatter actually distracts us a tiny bit and allows our creative juices to start flowing. It sounds crazy, but it works!"

So if you can't change the environment, create variations through background noise.

Light Up a Room

Literally. Improving the lighting in your office (whether it's natural or artificial) can actually reduce absenteeism in office environments. So if your office is gloomy and grim, add a few lamps to improve visibility and mood.

For more tips and tricks on how to improve your productivity, visit our Resources page. 


Posted by Mary Redzic on Thursday February 09, 2017 0 Comments

Labels: Productivity

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Organize Your Thoughts Before Writing

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As a legal professional, you're in the business of constantly composing new writing samples - be they pleadings, speeches, client letters, or blog posts. All this writing isn't easy, especially when your goal is to finish quickly... and cover all your bases... and sway your audience... and stay within your page limit. Luckily, there are ways to improve your writing while simultaneously making the process less exhausting; the secret is planning ahead. Through strategic planning, you'll be able to convey your message in a more efficient way - which means fewer words, less time, and greater impact.


First, identify your thesis or core argument. Decide who your audience is, and define a successful outcome as it pertains to your specific application - whether you're teaching, convincing, storytelling, or summarizing.

Next, perform a thorough brain dump and write down everything you want to include in your composition, including facts, opinions, issues, ideas, assumptions, rules, conclusions and assertions. This preliminary step will give you an overview of all the elements you're working with, so you can formulate a more comprehensive and substantiated argument. Scribbles and messy notes are fine for now - as long they're legible enough to re-read later.


Once you have everything written down, use outlines to weave these strings of information together into one cohesive fabric. There are a multitude of ways to do this, but I find that bubble trees, flow charts, and traditional outlines are the easiest to create and utilize.

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Bubble trees are my favorite type of outline; I use them to create my daily to-do lists, map out my annual goals, and decide what to pack before I travel. Always start by writing your purpose, thesis, or core argument in the center circle, and drawing first-level branches for all the bigger themes or concepts.

For example, if my core argument is "MerusCase is the best legal technology on market", I might designate my first-level branches accordingly: extensive features and capabilities, affordable pricing and ease/accessibility, loyal and satisfied clients, great culture and devoted support staff, numerous product integrations and automations, high-grade security and protection protocols, and limitations of competitors.

Break down each of your first- and second-level branches until you have: a) utilized all of the relevant content from your brain dump; and b) identified specific documents, quotes, statistics, and other resources that will help you prove your point.

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Flow charts are extremely versatile and can be used in a variety of projects. When it comes to planning your writing, flow charts are particularly great for creating seamless chronology and visualizing the flow of logic that your audience will follow. Because of their flexibility, flow charts are also useful for mapping out arguments that have uncertain turning points. For example, if you don't know what approach your opposing counsel will take in court, flow charts will help your prepare for all possibilities. For a full tutorial on creating and using flowcharts, check out this guide from Creately.

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Since you are well-versed in the IRAC method, you're likely to benefit from the structural similarity of traditional (skeletal) outlines. These outlines are easy to construct, formal enough to present to your colleagues, and can be used to organize any type of writing. Because of their presence in academic writing circles, most traditional outlines follow a standardized format - but as this guide from the University of Richmond shows, they can be as broad or as detailed as you'd like.

Whichever outline format you choose, focus on ideas, concepts, and logical thinking, rather than on word choice or grammar. Go with the flow; if you're stuck on phrasing, just leave yourself a ______ or [a suggestion, synonym, or paraphrase] - then move on.


Finally, begin your composition and use your outline as a roadmap; you'll be surprised how much easier it is to write when you've already thought through the brunt of your argument. 


Posted by Sucheta Salgaonkar on Thursday January 19, 2017 0 Comments

Labels: Strategy, Law Firm Marketing, Lawyering Skills, Productivity

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