by Joanne Bunker
When thinking about interior design, do the needs of legal firms
differ from any other office? Hong Kong Lawyer talks to
some of the territory's designers to find out.
Location! Location! Location!
While other major businesses (traders, retail-
ers, publishers, etc) are following the trend
and relocating away from the expensive cen-
tral business district, lawyers are still paying
top dollar to be in the middle of town. Law
firms, like finance and. banking institutions,
need to be seen in all the right places, and are
willing to foot the rental bills to maintain an
image of positive cashflow, credibility and
However, subtle corners are being cut to
compensate for the cost of a prestigious ad-
dress on name cards. Moira Moser, Managing
Combining library amd reception space is both
Director of M Moser Associates Ltd, one of
impressive and practical
Asia's specialists in architecture and interior
design, says the design requirements of law image is the key
firms in Hong Kong have changed consider-
ably over the last decade: "Law firms are going How clients and potential clients perceive
for much smaller offices than they did ten your practice or institution is obviously ex-
years ago. Individual accommodation for the tremely important. According to one senior
lawyer is shrinking. Meetings are now usually interior designer, the style of legal offices is
held in conference rooms — by scheduling beginning to resemble "that of financial insti-
appointments in those rooms, space can be tutions and banks. All those types of institution
used more effectively". want to portray a public face that denotes
Ms Moser's colleague. Norrie Peel, agreed, confidence and stability".
but offered the alternative rationale that law-
yers actually need less space than previously: Surface style
"Today there is less direct contact with clients.
People use the telephone and fax and have It's very common for public areas within a
fewer face-to-face meetings. Added to that, in legal office to receive a bigger proportion of
the last six to seven years more lawyers are the fitting-out budget. From this area comes
using a personal computer, replacing some of the all-important 'first impression'. Typically,
the need for support staff". the operations area will be more functional
Hong Kong Lawyer March 1995
and less decora- external walls.
tive. In a recep- • I d e n t i f y the
tion area, one of distance between
the most usual external walls and
display items is building core Cit is
shelf upon shelf inefficient for a law
of reference firm which doesn't
books and case re- need to accommo-
ports. This im- date big 'pools' of
presses the lay- s u p p o r t staff to
man, but is also a leave too m u c h
sensible use of Law firms are spending more on artwork unused space).
space. According for public areas » Be clear on the
to M Moser and difference between
Associates, artwork is also very important in a actual usable space and the net area you
reception area, and budgets for artwork in the are paying for.
public areas of legal offices are "getting bet-
ter", with more being spent on paintings, Points to out for
statues and other fine art.
• How old is the air conditioning unit?
Nuts & bolts • Is the air conditioning suited to open plan
or individual offices?
Public areas may be important, but it is vital " Sound insulation is of prime importance in
not to neglect or skimp on the 'back room' law firms — sound can carry through air
areas where the work that pays for the decor conditioning ducts, destroying privacy and
takes place. Square footage, the number and concentration.
location of windows, columns and working/ • In newer buildings, try and allow for a
external walls are all ingredients with which special transfer duct above the ceiling (to
the designer must work. Ms Moser explained: allow air to circulate but not sound).
"Law firms usually need a larger proportion of « If the space you occupy is small, use lighter
windows than, for example, accounting firms. colours,
This is because lawyers usually have a high • Consider installing a 'work wall' against a
proportion of individual offices, while ac- solid wall, it is more efficient as it can be
counting firms tend to have large populations used as a storage unit or another desk.
of 'number crunchers' who can work effec- « If located on a Sow floor, consider double-
tively in a central pool area. Also, law firms glazing to cut out disruptive sounds from
will usually have a ratio of one or two support the street. *J*
staff per lawyer. Accounting firms, on the other
hand, will probably have 15 to 20 support staff
per manager". The basic premise is that win-
dows follow seniority.
Starting from scratch/relocating
• Liaise with your designer about suitability
of space before leasing, if possible. Will
your office and staff actually fit into the new
• Ensure that columns and external/working
walls don't eat up.too much of your space Meeting in conference rooms inseat of
quota. ' offices allows for more effective use of
• Go for the maximum number of windows to space
Hong Kong lawyer March 1995
(As usual the references to the principles of conduct are to the
Draft Hong Kong Solicitors Guide of Professional Conduct)
Lawyers as consultants to multiple firms
received from Firm B. Sol has simply learned
1. The Guidance Committee has been asked from a task; expanded his expertise and thereby
whether solicitors may work for more than enhanced his quality as adviser to Firm A
one firm. Some solicitors work as 'consult- without causing harm to Firm B's client or
ants', with no particular affiliation. Some are breaching confidentiality.
employed by, or are partners in, a firm and 9. Task 2. if Sol has no clue and was given none
also act as consultants for other firms. Some about the identity of Firm B's client, again there
firms share principals. The Guidance Commit- would be no conflict. But difficulties arise if he
tee told the enquirers that there was no realises the identity of Firm B's client and sees
absolute objection to the practice under Rule that a client of Firm A would be extremely
5C of the Solicitors Practice Rules. However, interested (for purely commercial reasons) to
consultant-solicitors have to take care to know about the moves of a competitor.
ensure that no conflict of interest arises. 10. If, during the task, he comes to this realisation,
does he have a duty to Firm B to inform it of
Discussion — conflict of interest a 'conflict'? If he says something, he will
probably alert Firm B to a prospective prob-
2. We will assume that the consultant-solicitor lem which may cause difficulties for firm A's
(Sol) is registered as a full-time employee with client in the event of any future dispute be-
Firm A and will be asked to do a task for Firm tween that client and Firm B's client.
B. Sol's an expert in international trade law. 11. Conversely, if he says nothing to Firm B, does
Firm A has clients who are international trad- he still have a duty to his client at Firm A to
ers. inform him? If he passes the information to his
3. Task 1: Sol is asked by Firm B to advise on a own client, that will conflict with his promise
question of law, expressed as a hypothetical to Firm B to keep confidential all the informa-
issue. tion he has acquired.
4. Task 2: Sol is asked to advise on the effective- 1.2. The ethical guidelines are:
ness of and possible improvements to a pro- 8.03: A solicitor is under a duty to pass
posed international contract; no names. In onto his client and use all information
order to respond adequately he asks for and which is material to the subject matter of
receives information about the business objec- the retainer regardless of the source of
tives of the firm's client. No names. But. Sol that information. There are, however,
deduces who the client is and the nature of the exceptional circumstances where such a
commercial interest at stake. duty does not apply.
5. Task 3. Sol is asked to advise on a matter and 13. The "exceptional circumstances" relate to in-
Firm B's client is revealed in the papers. formation harmful to the mental or physical
6. Assume that in every case Sol binds himself condition of the client and receipt from an-
to keep confidential all the information re- other party of privileged documents disclosed
ceived from Firm B. by mistake.
7. Consider two situations. First, at the time of the 14. So the strict, narrow solution to the problem
tasks Sol is quite unaware that a client of Firm ought to be that Sol terminates his relationship
A would benefit from the work done or : with his "own" client if and when there is a
information obtained from Firm B. Second, he retainer with the client that is relevant. Until
becomes aware during or after the task that a then. Sol can keep silent to both Firm B and his
client of Firm A would be very interested in the . own client — with a time-bomb ticking away.
information. ; However, even if Sol's retainer with his own
8. For Task 1 there is no difficulty. His duty to client is not "relevant" there will be an obvious
disclose to Firm A's client does not conflict temptation to pass the information on.
with a duty to keep confidential 'information' 15. Reader, what do you think Sol ought to do? •!*
Hong Kong Lawyer March 1995