Your lobby is important. It's the first impression some clients have of your firm. They make judgments about the quality of your work based on what they see as they wait for their appointment. Your lobby is far more important than you imagine.
Here are 18 tips for making your lobby work for you rather than against you.
1. The lobby needs to feel welcoming. When people open the door, they should feel compelled to enter, not to run in the opposite direction. Stand in the doorway and see whether the space draws you in or pushes you out. Think “black hole” sucking in everything under its influence. Most law firms go for a “power” look. Don't do that: it feels good to lawyers, not clients.
2. Lower the lights to the minimum acceptable level. Keep it as dark and as comfortable as possible. The lobby is a great use of interior space. Save the windows for people who get wound up about windows (you know who they are). If the space has windows, then twist the blinds to minimize the incoming light.
3. Use table lamps, not overhead light. Use low wattage bulbs, and choose the warmest light bulbs you can find. Keep the lighting dim and cozy. Think peaceful oasis.
4. Turn on some music in the background. We've got an iPad hooked up to a Bose speaker. It plays 24/7. Make the music comforting and soft. Think classical or new age—no lyrics.
5. Use warm, dark, muted colors for decorating. Use a blue carpet, darkish brown wall covering, and dark furniture. Think meditation room, not office building. Use wood, not metal. Remember, the lobby isn't for you; it's for them.
6. Put in a fountain with running water. Make sure it makes noise. The sound of running water is peaceful. Let the sound wash over your visitors and drown out other sounds coming from the building.
7. Place art on the walls. Use abstract paintings in those same warm, muted colors. Use a few big paintings rather than a bunch of small art pieces.
8. Eliminate all noise other than the music and the water in the fountain. Be sure nearby offices and conference rooms can't be heard from the lobby.
9. Get the receptionist out of the lobby. Put that person behind a wall with a window so people in the lobby can have some solitude. Make sure your receptionist can't be heard from the lobby when talking on the phone.
10. Use big, plush, comfortable chairs in the lobby. Don't use sofas. No one wants to sit next to anyone else. Give people space to sit alone.
11. Move people out of the lobby if it starts to get crowded. If you've got two clusters of seating, then move visitors to conference rooms once there are two people or groups waiting in the lobby. Don't force people to interact.
12. Try to arrange the traffic pattern so that people move around the edges of the lobby to enter and exit. Try not to have the primary path run straight through the middle.
13. Add plants to the mix. Fit in as many plants as you can, and rotate them in and out so they don't die. It's dark in the lobby, so the plants can't stay there indefinitely. Use live plants, not imitation.
14. Put magazines in the lobby, but only four or five different magazines and only the latest edition of each magazine. Keep it simple and uncluttered.
15. Assign people to check the lobby every hour. They should arrange the magazines, straighten the chairs, check the music, and pick up dead leaves. Keep the lobby in perfect condition.
16. Check the temperature. It needs to be just right: not too hot and not too cool. No sweating, but no shivering either.
17. Make sure there are coasters for drinks. Don't make people wonder about whether it's okay to put the drink on the table. Make it easy so there's no stress involved.
18. Create good air circulation in the room. Don't let odors linger. Don't let food odors from other parts of the space enter the lobby. Keep the air fresh and pleasant.
Creating a space that is comfortable, inviting, and relaxing isn't easy. It's probably not the best task for most lawyers. If you're struggling, get some help. There are decorators you can hire who can do this in their sleep.
You'll know you've got it right when clients comment on how peaceful and relaxing it is to wait in your lobby. You should expect them to want to stay out there where it's comfortable. Listen for comments about how they could spend the day in your lobby. When you start getting that kind of feedback, you'll know you've got it right. If you're not getting spontaneous comments about the lobby, then you haven't hit it right yet. Keep working on it, and keep listening for feedback.