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THE MAGAZINE      September 2002
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Key Steps When Relocating

Doug Rollo

Moving a law firm is a gigantic undertaking. And it only gets worse as the big move date quickly approaches. All those files, computers, furnishings, books, telephones, copiers, items ad infinitum—and, oh, all those people. Well, get outta’ there already! Make a smooth move with the four keys to a happy relocation: coordination, cooperation, commitment and fun.

 

I have a confession to make. I like to move. You know … uproot the spouse and pets, throw everything into a van and search out new frontiers. It’s been five homes in the past six years. My wife and I change addresses as often as some people change hairstyles. According to some experts, the only things more traumatic than moving are marriage and divorce. But my commitment to moving runs deep.

Some say I’m sort of a "moving magnet." Over the past 25 years, I’ve worked at seven places, including my current employer, Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP. Of those seven firms, five have moved while I worked for them, including Young Conaway.

Fortunately, over the years I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge that makes moving not only painless, but fun. Yes, I said fun. Now, pick yourself up off the floor and join me as I lead you on a tour through the wonderful world of law office relocations. (Warning: Dawdlers will be left to fend for themselves in the wastelands formerly serving as their offices. So please try to stay with the tour group.)

You’re in the Air Force Now: Be Prepared

Since I’m in a confessing mood, I’ll share the roots of my wanderlust. I was an Air Force brat who moved regularly when my father was posted at bases throughout the world. Now there’s a group that knows how to move. Military families never leave anything at a former address and everything they bring to a new home is vital. There are lessons to be learned from them.

Have a plan. First, an effective move resembles a well-oiled military operation. Any general will tell you that preparation is the key to success. Case in point: At one of my previous firms, all the client files were packed in boxes. Seems reasonable, except that nobody numbered the boxes. It took three months to get the files in order. Such is the sin of careless planning. You must plan every detail of the move.

Get buy-in from the top. You must consider what is being moved, who is responsible for coordinating the relocation and when the move will occur. But you must also consider how quickly you can get the firm’s leaders to endorse your efforts, and to help spread the word about the impending relocation. Leadership’s cooperation and commitment is the most important element for success.

Young Conaway, which is a full-service law firm in Delaware, closed its office at noon on a Friday, giving the movers roughly 60 hours to complete the relocation of 200 lawyers and staff members. On Monday morning, everyone reported to the new office in the Brandywine Building at City Center in Wilmington. Without the support of the firm’s leaders, we would not have been able to close the office for six hours—a major sacrifice—and complete the move in such a short time frame.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Assess Your Position

Take a realistic look at furniture, filing cabinets and other items that will be moved. As part of its relocation plan, Young Conaway bought new furniture for some employees, thus reducing the quantity of existing furniture that had to be moved.

If that’s not an option, at least reduce risks by considering the age of the items to be moved. A partner at one of my previous firms insisted that we move his beloved desk—which he’d had since his first job out of law school—even though the movers said the piece would not make it. When the partner hurried to check out his new office, he was presented with three legs—the only remnants of his treasured desk.

Scale back. Consider the heritage pieces that have hung around the office for decades. Are they truly treasures? Young Conaway had a scale model of a 747 airplane that periodically appeared, and reappeared, in various locations. Everyone assumed it was an important heirloom with some significance to the firm. A little research revealed that it was an item the firm’s managing partner had rescued from the trash years ago. Before we moved, it made one last flight—into the dumpster.

Speaking of hanging around, don’t forget to consider your existing artwork. Will the pieces match the firm’s new décor? Are there items too delicate to move by truck? What goes? What stays? For this move, all of Young Conaway’s art was placed in a vacant office to allow us time to find the right homes for each piece. Sometimes you have to get the feel of a place before you can decorate it.

Who Says Size Doesn’t Matter? Recognize Potential Pitfalls

When planning new space, be aware that the size of an office really does mean something to many people. Will the new offices be modular, with basically the same square footage for each partner and associate? Or are the new offices ultramodern, with dramatic lines or oddly configured exterior walls? Are the secretarial stations shrinking? Employees notice these workspace elements almost immediately. It’s best to address these issues upfront, to head off objections.

It may sound simple, but it’s also important to make sure the new location can support heavier materials, such as the library and file room contents. Many buildings constructed in the past 40 years do not have the structural integrity to bear that kind of load. Determine weight-bearing factors from the outset and reinforce the structure as needed before move-in day.

I Need a Volunteer: Assign the Right Leaders

A well-oiled operation requires captains and lieutenants to spearhead the advance phase. Young Conaway created a move committee of experienced administrative staff, and began the task of determining the hows, whats, whys and whens of the firm’s move more than eight months in advance. In addition, the firm drafted lieutenants from various departments and floors to ease the crush of queries and requests that a relocation generates. These "officers" funneled information, fielded questions and forwarded queries to the committee, making its job much more manageable.

There’s also the matter of a relocation "point person," an especially vital role. Don’t select the new kid on the block to play this part. Remember that old adage about "kill the messenger"? Relocations take people out of their comfort zones. And you don’t want someone who is just establishing his or her relationships in the firm to deal with co-workers who are already wary of impending changes.

Finally, make sure your team picks a moving company as carefully as it would a new partner. You only get one chance to move—if you’re lucky—and you don’t want to be saddled with an inexperienced mover.

Respect the Frontline: Communicate

Don’t forget that it’s the soldiers who are engaged firsthand in the battle. Every single person in your firm must be aware of the details of the relocation. An informed workforce makes moving easier. Young Conaway published firm newsletter articles about the progress of construction, regularly updated the firm’s Web site with pictures of the construction and distributed e-mail alerts with important information. We also offered people the chance to tour the new location and created a countdown clock as move-in neared.

Is Everyone Having Fun?

To get people even more involved, try instituting a plan that brings some humor and fun into the moving process. In commemoration of the move, we offered prizes for the office that cleared out the most trash, and for those that were perpetually neat.

We also ran one contest to guess how many truckloads the firm shipped to its new location, and another to pick the exact minute the firm’s administrator left a message letting everyone know they could enter the building. In addition, we held a T-shirt design contest, then gave T-shirts emblazoned with the winning design to everyone on their first day in the new office. To involve firm leaders in the fun, we asked them to come up with contest gifts. The bounty included wine, CDs, a weekend at a beach house and baseball tickets. The contests and the gifts were a huge hit with the entire firm.

We created a pictorial scavenger hunt, where people tried to find items located throughout the firm. Aside from the amusement factor, the contest encouraged people to think about how immense a task it is to move a firm of this size. We also conducted a poll to determine everyone’s favorite and least favorite pieces of art, which helped us decide what art to take along.

Last, but not least, we entertained the people who had a key role in our relocation success: We hosted a breakfast for the construction workers who built our new offices to let them know how much we appreciated their work.

Are We There Yet? Be On Duty

Identify a move-in team of field officers to supervise the relocation onsite. A Young Conaway partner volunteered to be "on duty" in our new offices, which had the added advantage of preventing people (you know who you are) from gumming up the works. At one of my previous firms, a partner went into his new office and demanded that his furniture be set up immediately. That created an uncomfortable situation for the movers and administrative staff coordinating the rest of the move. Someone with authority on-site can help control such situations.

Yet despite moving day agitations, remember that the practice of law must go on. Young Conaway created a satellite office in our training center across the street from our old location for use by lawyers during the actual move-in days.

Check and double-check. As a practical matter, everything at the new location needs to be tested, including telephone jacks and electrical outlets. When I worked for a local government office, we moved into new space only to find that all the telephone circuits were dead—somebody failed to verify that they worked before we relocated.

To ensure that items would go to the correct floor and office, Young Conaway used color-coded labels with the new workspaces noted. In addition, we deliberately used crates, rather than boxes, for the entire move—with one notable exception. Each person packed a "hot box" containing only crucial items, so employees were able to find everything they needed to start work as soon as they entered the office.

And Now the End Is Near …

My years of moving have equipped me with the ability to change office settings as easily as I change my socks. In addition to the preceding pointers, I’ve learned that with any move, there are special considerations, such as the timing and difficulties of moving IT departments and large firm libraries. And then there’s Murphy’s Law. No matter how carefully you plan your relocation, something will go wrong.

But it needn’t be a crisis or keep your firm from being up and running the next day if you observe the keys to an effective move: coordination, cooperation, commitment and fun. If you carefully address each of those issues, your move should be less traumatic than marriage or divorce. Indeed, your next relocation should be a … well … moving experience.

When not distributing packing tape, Doug Rollo (drollo@ycst.com) is the Records Manager at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP in Wilmington, DE, (302) 571-4754.

TIP: Four Moving Mandates

Coordination. Plan your work and work your plan. If you haven’t done your home-work, moving day will be immeasurably more difficult.

Cooperation. I get by with a little help from my friends … and co-workers. If you get the firm’s leaders to endorse your plan, more than half the battle will be won.

Communication. Give your staff and lawyers as much information as possible, as frequently as is practical. The more they know, the smoother the move will go.

Fun. When you laugh at something, it’s less intimidating. And everyone feels more comfortable.

TIP: Four Relocation Rattlers

Meddlers. As the old saying goes, too many cooks ruin the stew. If people have access to your new offices while you’re moving, they will get in the way, slow the movers and possibly divert the movers’ efforts.

Deadbeats. If you’re not getting support, you’re not going to get it done. Firm leadership must be behind your efforts to marshal the relocation.

Box world. People adore boxes, but in moves of this magnitude, boxes often lead to trouble. Crates are much harder to misplace and are friendlier to the environment.

Ad-libbing. Create a move plan with a time line, and stick to it. Trying to coordinate an office relocation without prep work is career suicide.