Design Creates a Uniquely Engaging Work Environment for Emerging Talent
When three of California’s preeminent defense litigators, James Kjar, Robert McKenna, and Patrick Stockalper, decided to join forces to open their own firm, they knew from the beginning that a dark, boxy cubicle farm where associates and support staff toiled day in and day out overshadowed by a behemoth honeycomb of filing cabinets and flickering fluorescent lights wouldn’t be in keeping with the kind of law they wanted to practice. Instead, the trio of maverick attorneys envisioned a working environment for Kjar, McKenna & Stockalper (KMS) that would challenge stereotypes, encourage fresh ideas, and create the kind of inspiring, supportive, and magnetizing atmosphere that could draw the finest up-and-coming legal minds into the fold and keep them there.
“We [have] created a unique defense firm in terms of our youthfulness,” senior partner James J. Kjar said in describing the culture and ethos of the KMS brand. “…Our workspace is very modern and we are really promoting young lawyers to become the next generation of trial lawyers, which is what the industry needs desperately.”
Using Cutting Edge-Technology to Streamline the Future of Litigation
To stay at the top of the profession, a legal firm can’t just keep abreast of trends, it has to anticipate them. Nowhere is this more crucial than with the ever-changing technology on which the practice of law has become more and more dependent. Virtual hearings, computer simulations, and artificial intelligence have made unprecedented impacts in courtrooms, while advanced file-sharing, enhanced background-check software, and virtual office applications have already been integrated into the workings of many legal practices.
Even prior to the massive workforce restructuring set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that Kjar, McKenna & Stockalper was making the most of emerging technology was a priority. “We’d actually started as a cloud-based business,” noted senior partner Robert McKenna. “[As such], you don’t have any servers, so you don’t have to have people coming in to work on them.” A cloud-based business model lets attorneys do their job from practically any location that has Internet service. “The beauty of being cloud-based is… you can be anywhere and sign in anytime and do anything and it all works,” McKenna explained.
According to James Kjar, building advanced technology into the framework of the practice from its inception has garnered definite advantages over traditional methods. “We have the most up-to-date cloud computing systems and software available, and we find that our lawyers, particularly the younger ones, are very facile with sifting through large amounts of documents and organizing them, and that makes for greater efficiency,” Kjar said.
The increased productivity along with savings on equipment maintenance costs, man hours, and travel expenses have proven to be substantial. These economic benefits can be passed along to clients, which is a win/win for all concerned. “Our goal, when we get a case from an insurance client — or any other client — is to try to dispose of it as quickly and as efficiently as possible and to keep the fees and costs low,” said Kjar. “We call it a modern defense because it is modern. From our offices to our software to our younger lawyers, it is a very modern take on what is traditionally, shall we say, an older-leaning type of law practice.”
Modern Interior Design Breathe New Life into the Practice of Law
In addition to implementing a technology-forward strategy in their business model, James Kjar says that he and his partners also wanted to take something along the lines of a Google/Steve Jobs/Apple approach to the design and functionality of their office spaces. Fun, team-building, and synergy were built into the floor plans of the firm’s two newest office spaces — literally.
“We started this firm on the premise that the practice of law is difficult. The easier and more fun you can make it, the more people appreciate it,” Kjar explained. “They have less stress and they tend to stay loyal to us.
Like Googleplex on a smaller scale, Kjar, McKenna & Stockalper’s El Segundo offices were intentionally created using an amenity-rich campus model. “We have designed a physical space that is conducive to interaction,” Kjar said. “We have large open areas. We have a large lounge. We have an outside patio (featuring a barbecue and state-of-the-art sound system) … so people will be ‘forced’ to run into each other… On any given day, I will talk to our receptionist, our file clerk, several secretaries, some of our newest lawyers, some of my fellow partners, and even the old senior partners… That’s how we’ve promoted and actively developed a culture of mentoring and frequent interaction with our associates.”
As avid sports enthusiasts, James Kjar, Robert McKenna, and Patrick Stockalper sought out design assistance from world-acclaimed photographer Bo Bridges to complete their El Segundo location. Billed as a “visual revolutionary,” Manhattan Beach-based Bridges is an action sports, advertising, and fine art photographer/director whose work has been featured in “The Los Angeles Times,” “Sports Illustrated,” ESPN, “The New York Times,” and “Surfer” magazine (among others). His celebrated iconic beach and surfing scenes (which form an interior shoreline so compelling you can almost hear the waves and smell the salt breeze) deliver a perfect calm counterpoint to the often-stressful demands of a lawyer’s day.
Designed as a simulated replica of a real Orange County courtroom — including a jury room for deliberations — KMS’s Huntington Beach office is home to a mock courtroom which will be used to help prepare witnesses for trial testimony, and also as a site to hold trial-related focus groups. “The modern, open designs of both spaces are a reflection of the firm’s commitment to being at the cutting edge of law firm technology and to foster a collaborative environment where the lawyers can both interact with each other and have a space to escape from the pressures of a busy trial practice,” the KMS website states.
The success of Kjar, McKenna & Stockalper’s outside-the-cubicle blueprint is something of which all the partners are extremely proud. Says James Kjar, “When a young lawyer — or even a lawyer who’s worked somewhere else — comes to us and says, ‘This is like no law firm I’ve ever worked at,’ we say, ‘Thank you. That is exactly why we started it.’”