Glen Wieland | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Glen Wieland

Background:  

Orlando-based Wieland Hilado & DeLattre is a 25-year-old trial litigation firm with an expertise in personal injury, workers’ compensation, Social Security disability, insurance disputes, and employment-related claims.

The Mistake:

We failed to recognize that clients loved the opulent [office] space, but that wasn’t why they were coming to us.

We were a growing law firm – I had one partner at the time – and getting to be fairly well recognized in Orlando. I made the decision that we were going to move from one downtown office building to another downtown office building, the Bank of America building. And we built out this extremely grandiose space. It was rather opulent, to be honest with you.

Our plan was to bring people in and entertain them, impress them. We had a judge’s bench that we used as a reception desk. We had copper ceilings put in. We bought an antique bar and had it shipped down from Atlanta. We had an outside balcony. My office was the size of a small apartment, but we had all this dead space.

After we’d been there three or four years, I’m looking at the size of my office and I’m realizing I could have put three staff people in the back side of my office, put up a wall and not even known they were there. And it was such a waste because [it’s not] what the clients were looking for. They do like to see that you’re a professional, but sometimes they thought we were too grandiose or that we would overcharge them because the space was too big.

I had a client ask once about our fees. He said this is an absolutely gorgeous office space, but they were concerned how it would affect the cost of their case, in an indirect way. 

But there’s a point at which it’s a diminishing return and you’re spending money that is absolutely not necessary.

The Lesson:

The thought we had was that, by having this incredibly beautiful office space, we were going to attract people to refer us cases, big cases. We failed to recognize that clients, as well as other lawyers, loved the space, but that wasn’t why they were coming to us. It’s not what clients are looking for when they’re deciding who they’re going to hire.

I realized that having nice office space is important. Having well laid-out space and sufficient space to do your work is important. But there’s a point at which it’s a diminishing return and you’re spending money that is absolutely not necessary.

When our lease came up, we looked at the parking costs along with our rent costs and said this is ridiculous. We can go buy a building for less money and design it and lay it out the way we want to, where it’s functional and works well. And that’s what we did.

I think the firm that moved into [our old] space cut our conference room into two or three conference rooms. We’d been paying rent on this conference room that literally sat empty a vast majority of the time. We came to realize the few times we used the room didn’t justify the expense of having it there all the time. Our reception area was probably 60 feet long and 30 feet wide. We could have played racquetball there.

I think there’s something to be said for designing your office to [suit the profession]. And clients seem to like privacy, so you don’t need to have offices that are all glass, for instance. If I had to tell young lawyers about things like this, I’d say look at your cases and see how many of them require you to have what specific types of space requirements, and then [lease] and use what you need on a day-to-day basis.

Follow Wieland Hilado & DeLattre on Twitter at @whdjustice.

Photo courtesy of Glen Wieland

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