Miller Thomson opens up legal profession with new offices

‘Legal knowledge centre’ takes down walls to promote collaboration

The new open design is in response to lawyers finding conventional offices isolating, says Mike Walker, managing partner, Miller Thomson LLP | Submitted

By design, Miller Thomson LLP’s new offices promote collaboration. 

The Canadian business law firm opened its new $12.5-million, 48,000-square-foot, self-described “legal knowledge centre” on the fourth floor of downtown’s Pacific Centre.

Miller Thomson now counts tech giants Sony Pictures Imageworks and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) as building neighbours.
Operating in the new space as of early April, the move came after the firm’s lease ended for its old 840 Howe Street location, where it occupied four floors since 1987. The new office is also a move away from a separated working environment.

“We’ve gotten away from that problem we had with big law firms where you’re on four, five or six different floors of a building,” said Mike Walker, managing partner of Miller Thomson LLP. “You never see people who are from some other group and we want people to be collaborating. … The start of that is for people to see each other and interact.”

Located above American luxury department store Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN), the main feature of the new office is a hybrid open plan, where about half of its 70 lawyers are in open work stations, while some work in open-glass offices.

“We gave our lawyers the option of working in the open or working in an office,” said Walker. “They were finding conventional offices isolating and that’s another thing that’s changed a lot in the profession. It’s just less of a solitary pursuit than it used to be. ... The most successful lawyers work along with other people.”

While the firm primarily works with its national clients, there’s been growth locally in new business with the tech, entertainment, real estate and tourism sectors.

As these sectors evolve and change, there’s been an increasing demand for lawyers to work with industry consultants to provide more specialized legal advice.

There’s less room for the pure legal solution than there used to be five or 10 years ago, says Walker.

“Well, maybe nothing is ever a purely legal question,” he said. “Your legal problem is often a financial problem, it’s a political problem, HR issue, it’s a marketing issue – all of those things have to work together.

“The mindset we want to move to is: you have a problem, you come to us and we’re going to work together to solve it. We’ll work together with your other advisors and with your in-house expertise. We want collaboration in the office and we also want collaboration with clients and other advisers. That’s really where the future lies.”