Breaking Down Walls Broke Down Barriers

by | Jul 21, 2016

Breaking Down Walls Broke Down Barriers

On a random Wednesday afternoon in May, Angela McIlveen called lawyers and staff to meet her in the law firm’s common area where she distributed bonuses to everyone in the office. The firm met a new financial goal and as Angela describes it, everyone helped meet the goal, so everyone benefited with a financial reward.

Or put another way, the firm’s success belongs to everyone. This is not the typical law firm thought process. But McIlveen Family Law is not your ordinary law firm.

Angela and her husband Sean opened the family law firm about six years ago. Angela was a litigation partner in another law firm. However, she jumped in with both feet to learn a new practice area, as well as manage the business side of the firm.

Angela had long wondered if there was a better way to manage a law firm. She was on her way to finding out.

How to Build a Business

Angela read everything she could get her hands on about good business practices. Over time, she was particularly interested in the ideas of efficiencies and data analytics. Most businesses know their numbers. How many components they need to produce their widgets, how many widgets they need to produce to stay in business. Law firms are different. Most lawyers view themselves as members of a profession rather than business owners.

Angela believes you can do both – be an excellent and ethical legal counselor, as well as run a profitable business.

Angela continues her business education today. She attends multiple conferences a year – covering topics such as marketing and technology, as well as continuing to read the best business books and articles. Angela typically devotes a day or two each quarter to continuing her business education. She often goes off-site, she avoids client work for 48 hours and focuses on her business. She reviews her financial reports, examines her progress towards meeting firm goals and participates in study through workshop or conference.

New Firm, New Environment

Angela was intrigued by fresh approaches to office design. There was a building that was available in Gastonia. It was a historical property and it would need work, but Angela envisioned something more than the traditional corner office. Angela developed a plan. When she presented her idea of an open design office, she was met with some resistance.

“Where will we meet with clients?” “Where will we hang our diplomas?” “How will I be able to concentrate to get client work done?”

While these seem like logical concerns, Angela had conducted a study of how much time the attorneys spent in their offices. The results were surprising. While real estate is often one of the biggest expenses for a law firm, the attorneys didn’t actually spend a lot of time in those corner offices. Angela proposed her idea of open design with no individual offices. In return, she asked her employees to let her know what they were looking for in office space and she encouraged them to think big.

The end result is stunning. When clients enter the Gastonia, NC office, they don’t see anything unusual. The client floor includes a lobby that has a small play area for kids, then a series of well-appointed conference rooms. But when you go upstairs, you could easily mistake the work space for a high-tech company.

Tall ceilings and wooden floors are the beautiful remnants of the historical building. Large windows on both ends of the building allow sunlight to flood the space. On each end of the large open space are long tables wired for technology. This is the area where lawyers and employees work most often. In the middle of the space is an area with sofas, easy chairs and beanbag chairs. This provides a comfortable meeting area to discuss a client’s case. There is a white board on the wall that provides a running total of the law firm’s financials. For all employees to see.

There are several quiet rooms. These are similar to phone booths. There is enough space for a built-in desk with a chair and a glass door. If you need to write a brief, this is a great place to work to signal your co-workers that you do not want to be disturbed.

There is also a workout facility down the hall and on the roof is a patio with outdoor furniture where you can take your laptop and work during the day. Spontaneous Friday afternoon parties also happen on the rooftop.

Breaking down Barriers

Angela says when she took down the walls, she broke down the barriers. In the new office space, it is not uncommon for a partner, a paralegal and the CFO to be sitting next to each other at the main workstation and end up at lunch together. That wouldn’t have happened when they were in their more traditional office space. She believes the new space has accomplished a business goal of creating more efficiencies, but she loves how the new space has created dynamic office relationships.

Angela’s management style is unique among law firm partners. She believes in transparency and teamwork. Each week, the team gathers around the white board and Angela reviews their financial goals for the week. Angela knows how many calls the call center needs to receive, how many of those calls must translate into consultations and how many consultations must convert to clients to meet weekly, monthly and yearly financial goals. Her team knows what is expected and what marks they need to hit during the week.

And when they hit their marks, they are rewarded. The recent bonus check is Angela’s way of encouraging her team, as well as rewarding their hard work.


Camille Stell is the Vice President of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at or 800.662.8843.


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