Six Ways Millennials and Gen Z are Changing Law Office Design

A new wave of young talent is bringing into question everything we know about law office design. With millennials poised to comprise nearly half of the workforce by 2026, generational shifts have begun affecting office design choices in earnest—and law firms are not exempt.

While legal workplaces have historically been designed around status-based private offices, the preferences of millennials and Gen Zers to work in democratized, experience-based environments are turning that stereotype on its head. Less square footage per employee, more shared space and experience-based design are a handful of Generation-inspired trends that have made their way into law offices. Meanwhile, evolving legal teams are shifting what firms demand of their space.

Just as important, law firms are realizing their offices play an important role in attracting talent in a tight labor market. Since 2010, law school enrollment has dropped nearly 25 percent, consequently shrinking the future talent pool, according to JLL’s 2017 Law Firm Perspective report.

As the last of the millennials graduate law school and enter the legal workforce—and with Gen Zers well on their way—law firms should pay attention to these six trends to keep up with workplace desires of incoming talent.

1. Real estate footprints are shrinking.

Following overall real estate trends, law firms are reducing real estate costs by increasing workplace density, meaning they’re leasing less square feet per person. CBRE research shows that law firms reduced their square footage by an average of 27 percent from Q1 2016 to Q2 2017. With smaller individual workspaces, offices today offer more shared space for increasing interaction and collaboration.

2. Distinct spaces for focus and collaboration.

The corner office isn’t extinct yet, but progressive firms are shifting their office layouts to dedicate less space to private offices and more to collaborative, open-area workspaces. In open environments, productivity and satisfaction get a big bump when the workplace offers a balance of spaces to focus, collaborate and socialize. Employees should have the workspace options to engage in heads-down work like filing motions and writing contracts, as well as spots to collaborate with other associates on briefs or memorandums—not to mention conference rooms fit for client meetings.

3. The workplace is always evolving.

The disruptive rate of change we see across all industries today is demanding more flexible and adaptable real estate strategies for companies of all types. Law is no exception. And what works today may not work a year from now. Consider modular planning strategies and furniture solutions that can adjust to future workstyles without necessitating a major remodel.

4. Adopting the WeWork model for human connection.

For a cohort that’s so reliant on technology, it’s counter-intuitive that millennials and Gen Zers prefer to interact and collaborate with their colleagues in person. Enabling human interaction is and will be a priority for the future of work. Step one is providing spaces for employees and clients to engage face-to-face. But law firms can take this mandate a step further by introducing community managers to help foster interaction to stimulate new ideas, innovation, and new opportunities.

5. Digital technologies enable more workspace choices.

Cloud computing and technology enable collaboration, communication and data access from anywhere—even if “anywhere” has to be within the firm’s offices due to privacy concerns. Technology infrastructure needs to enable employees to move around the office to work in the spaces most suited to their needs.

6. One size doesn’t fit all.

Bench-style seating or enclosed offices, classic or progressive—whatever your workplace looks like, it’s critical to implement a strategy that reinforces the firm culture, brand, and goals. When addressing these trends, be sure to stay true to your firm’s culture and your employees’ needs.

When technology offers professionals unlimited possibilities of when and where to be productive, it’s important to design an experiential space where employees choose to work. Understanding these trends and how they can cultivate your firm’s culture is critical to attracting and retaining the next generation of legal talent.

About the Author

Scott Delano is the design director for Wright Heerema Architects in Chicago, with 25 years of experience in planning, architecture, and interiors.

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