Entrepreneur

A Silicon Valley law firm loosens its tie, opens collaborative space in SOMA

Law offices bring to mind power suits, closed-door corner offices, serious conversations, and clients getting billed for every minute of advice. Collaborative work spaces with lounges, foosball tables, communal desks, and fun networking events are the bailiwick of hoodie-filled startups. But what if a law firm started acting like a startup?

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, one of Silicon Valley’s top law firms for startups, is trying to be a bit more like the hip, lean companies it represents by opening a new open and collaborative workspace in San Francisco’s tech-heavy SOMA district.

“One of the goals is for it not to look like an office you’d expect to see us in. Look more like the kind of space our clients are used to working in,” partner Todd Carpenter told VentureBeat.

Partners Mark Reinstra, Rachel Proffitt, and Carpenter (pictured above, left to right) gave us a tour of the raw space ahead of their move-in. The bright ground floor office is mostly one big open space, with large street-facing windows, exposed brick walls and thick wood beams, a spot for the aforementioned foosball table and lounge, and a handful of offices with doors for confidential meetings. It’s in walking distance of many of San Francisco’s big tech players, as well as AT&T Park, the new Lucky Strikes bowling alley, and hipster chicken-and-waffle eatery Little Skillet.

The office will serve some traditional lawyery purposes — clients in the area can come in to meet with their attorneys. But the plan is for it to act more as a community hub where entrepreneurs, lawyers, angel investors, and venture capitalists can mingle and maybe even make deals. It’s not just for clients, but for any lean-startup entrepreneur who could use some advice (a.k.a. potential clients).

“We change as our clients change, and right now they are raising small amounts of money very quickly, from a totally different subset of investors than they were ten, twenty years ago,” said Proffitt. “We need to be in a place to help them.”

More and more startups are doing things on the cheap — getting smaller infusions of capital, working in the cloud and without a pricy central office space. Wilson wants to step in and help these lean startups with facilities for board and client meetings, presentations, or just a place to plop down and get some work done. The partners also plan on hosting bi-monthly events, workshops, office-hours, and other events that are “designed to bring the community together.”

This is the firm’s third Bay Area location, but the tiny satellite office will only house three lawyers full-time to start, with a revolving cast of visiting attorneys from the other offices in Palo Alto and downtown San Francisco, and no non-lawyer staff (that means they’re making their own copies and coffees). It’s a small-scale experiment (they say its in “beta”) for the 50-year-old firm, which has 180 partners total, 1,200 employees, and 11 offices in the U.S., Asia, and Europe.

In a classic startup touch, the partners are in negotiations for a large stuffed grizzly bear for the space.

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