Fredrikson Opens Office Built for Hybrid, Digital Eras
Fredrikson signed a 16-year lease to occupy eight floors of the Class A office building, with space construction that began in June 2022.
“When we signed this [lease], when we committed to going forward, downtown was facing lots of strife,” John Koneck, Fredrikson’s president, said in an interview with Twin Cities Business. “When George Floyd was killed and all the civil unrest that followed that happened, downtown was perceived as not a very safe place.”
But Koneck said that Fredrikson, which has been located downtown since the firm’s founding in 1948, decided to become part of the solution. “What helps is having people back downtown,” he said. “The more people that come downtown, the more the skyway level traffic and the retail and food businesses in the skyways will come back.”
Koneck also notes that statistics show that the crime rate has been falling downtown. “Anyone who walks around downtown today and compares it to the way it was two years ago, or three years ago, will say, ‘Yes, downtown Minneapolis is much safer,’ ” Koneck said.
Fredrikson has 564 local employees, including 281 Minneapolis-based attorneys.
How lawyers work changed
When the pandemic arrived in early 2020, Fredrikson was occupying 204,459 square feet on nine floors of U.S. Bank Plaza. Just like other white-collar workers, the firm’s employees shifted to remote work in the first phase of the pandemic. Then people started returning to the office a few days a week after vaccinations became available and Covid rates declined.
During the two decades Fredrikson was in U.S. Bank Plaza, the firm’s business growth was strong, and it hired more attorneys. However, while the number of attorneys Fredrikson now employs is larger than it was 10 years ago, the new Fredrikson law office has less overall space. It consists of 158,394 square feet and the space is designed quite differently.
“We have more people fitting into a smaller space,” Koneck said, citing multiple reasons for that space decision.
“The way lawyers interact with clients has changed,” he said. “It used to be that clients would come to lawyers’ offices frequently. That’s less common.” Videoconferencing and other forms of communication have replaced in-person meetings in many instances.
As lawyers have adapted to hybrid work schedules, there’s less of a priority to provide them with large offices. The individual offices for Fredrikson attorneys at 60 South Sixth are “a nice size,” Koneck said, but they are smaller than the offices at U.S. Bank Plaza.
He cited a third reason for being able to accommodate more lawyers in less space. “The way our non-lawyers work has changed,” Koneck said. “As lawyers have advanced in the way they use word processing, we don’t need as many legal assistants.”
Koneck, a Yale Law School graduate, joined Fredrikson more than 40 years ago. “When I started there were two lawyers for each legal assistant,” he said. “Now, depending upon the lawyers and the legal assistants, there are three or four or five or six lawyers per legal assistant.”
Changes in technology also have altered the way lawyers and their colleagues do their work. “We don’t use paper as much,” he said. “Our files are electronic, and we have them on our laptops. We have them on our iPads, and they are stored in the cloud, and we can find whatever we need that way.”
Jamie Snelson, a Fredrikson executive committee member, said the reduction in paper use has made a huge difference in how much physical space the firm needs. “The digitization of what was formerly paper files has made an enormous impact on our ability to use space,” Snelson said. “We had miles of vertical files lining our offices at U.S. Bank Plaza. The stacks of paper that we all had in our offices for the past decades is no longer necessary for most of us.”
In anticipation of their move to a new office, Fredrikson employees took part in a two-year campaign called Paperlite. More than 250,000 pounds of paper was confidentially shredded and recycled. The firm also reduced its lateral filing cabinet storage by more than 1,500 drawers.
Modern spaces, technology
Because of what Snelson calls “the magic of digitization,” he said that Fredrikson attorneys could “work wherever we want and access all of the information that we need wherever we have a computer connection.” That technological reality has been “transformational,” he said.
“What we have been lacking is the ability to collaborate better,” said Snelson, who serves on the firm’s space committee and has been involved in planning for the new office design.
The new office incorporates elements to make it easier to communicate within and outside the firm.
“We have much more meeting space on our practice floors,” Snelson said. “So while our individual offices are smaller, we’ve got much more meeting space for us to collaborate in person and hybrid.”
The new office includes conference rooms, focus rooms, and team rooms. On the 15th floor, there is a flexible size event space.
Ann Rainhart, the firm’s chief operating officer, said the experience of the pandemic gave law firms the opportunity to envision the future of work. She labeled Fredrikson’s hypothesis as a “fluid way of working,” and the new office was built to accommodate it.
“Sometimes we’re in person, sometimes we’re on the phone, sometimes we’re on Zoom, and sometimes we’re in a big meeting and we want to be able to flow between rooms and spaces and do that effectively,” Rainhart said.
“We’ve got a phenomenal conference floor,” she said. “We’ve invested a lot in technology, so that when we arrive in those rooms, some of those rooms are set up to have Teams and Zoom meetings in a quick and easy way. We’ve invested in cameras and the table seating, so that we can be seen on video.”
In addition, Rainhart said, there’s a room that’s “been built for our litigators, so that they can have successful depositions and trial types of interactions using video in a room that looks much more like a courtroom setting.”
Every lawyer’s office
In Fredrikson’s new space, every attorney will have access to an individual office. About 70% of the attorneys elected to have designated offices, so they will be based out of the same space each day they are in the firm’s office.
About 30% of attorneys will reserve individual offices via a digital schedule. That will allow them to work out of offices on different floors, but they won’t have to sacrifice any space. The individual lawyer offices are the same size, whether they are reservable or designated for a given attorney.
Fredrikson was employing a hybrid work model in its prior office, and with the move to a new office this week it is not requiring its attorneys to be in the office a specific number of days.
“Philosophically, we have said we’d like people in the office more often than not,” Rainhart said.
The reservable offices won’t simply be for people who are at the Fredrikson office one or two days a week.
“Jamie and I are both going to be in reservable offices,” Rainhart said. She wants to move around within the firm, especially because she joined Fredrikson recently. “The way I’m going to work for a while is to reserve an office on a different floor and rotate through, so that I get to know a broader group of colleagues,” she said.
Snelson said that the new lawyer offices were designed to be highly functional and sound ergonomically. “Each desk surface is sit/stand,” he said. “We’ll all have dual monitors. We can plug in our laptops in each office that we go to and be up and running within 30 seconds.”
Fredrikson lawyers use an app to reserve individual offices. That reservation system comes with some benefits.
People within the firm can quickly check to see where a colleague is working on a given day, so they can easily find the person. The firm is using digital nameplates, so an attorney’s name is on the office while he or she is working in it.
But the biggest benefit may be something called a “mobile ped.” Facilities staff monitor when attorneys are going to be using reservable offices. They then deliver the personal mobile ped—a small cabinet on wheels with drawers for storage—to the attorney’s office.
“When I get there,” Snelson said, “my name will be on the office and my mobile ped will be delivered and the things I have put in it are going to be sitting there.”
After plugging in his computer, he said, he’ll access anything that’s not in a digital format from the mobile ped. “I’ll probably keep a family photo or two in my mobile ped. When I start my day, I’ll pull those out, and put them on the desk in the office that I’m occupying, and I’ll be up and running. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s not something that everyone has embraced, but a large portion of our lawyers have.”
Koneck, Snelson, and Rainhart said they are careful to safeguard the Fredrikson culture. In doing so, they’ve endorsed the principles of flexibility, customization, and collaboration.
“We’ve got people in the office every single day working as they’ve, frankly, worked for most of their careers,” Rainhart said, while others have been primarily working in a remote environment. Many attorneys wanted to work in individual offices that are assigned to them, while others wanted to move from office to office.
Recognizing that different employees have different ways of doing their best work, Fredrikson gave their employees choices over their in-office workspaces—assigned or reservable—as well as their hybrid schedules. The firm’s leadership didn’t force employees to adopt one model.
Yet Rainhart said the pandemic provided clarity that law firm colleagues need to spend some time together to be successful over the long haul. “It is important—in the development of lawyers, and to business partners, and to what makes for excellent client service—to collaborate with each other at times in person and to learn from each other,” Rainhart said.