New technology has allowed law firms to work more efficiently, enabling lawyers to work from virtually anywhere. It has helped law firms find the best workspace solution to enhance their employees’ working experience, draw in the next generation, increase productivity, and reduce costs. While many law firms desire and embrace the idea of forward-thinking space, no consensus exists yet about exactly what that space looks like.
We have seen a recent shift in law firms welcoming a more digitally driven environment; however, many senior attorneys are still more comfortable in their old ways of printing case documents, binding them in folders and filing them away.
Knowledge Sharing is Key
While some law firms are resistant, one concept we find highly desirable across industries is the open workplace and unassigned seating idea. The greatest value for a law firm in that setup, which provides a variety of workspaces and collaborative areas, would be knowledge sharing. Spontaneous face-to-face conversations often are the best ways for lawyers to get input and expertise from their partners. It makes sense for law firms to consider designing their space so that their professionals can easily and organically find one another.
Another trend in support of this reallocation of space is the diminishing need for support functions such as libraries, file rooms, cabinets and administrative assistance. Mock courtrooms may also become irrelevant in the future, as lawyers fully use online resources such as augmented reality tools to prepare them for a court appearance. To take it one step further, the future of litigation may evolve into virtual deposition through video conferencing.
Due to this diminished need for support space, law firms have been able to reduce their lease square footage by 20%-30%. Additionally, as we are now eight years out of the recession, rents have increased year-over-year in most U.S. office markets, and law firms are combating this in part by reducing leased square footage to cut down on costs. With core space requirements dissipating and the general desire to lessen expenses, most law firms are looking to shrink the size of their private attorney offices in tandem with the reduced interior areas. That’s particularly appropriate in an industry where the ratio of space to employees is much higher than in virtually any other.
One Shoe Doesn’t Fit All
Within the evolution of office space, it is imperative to tailor the workplace to a company’s requirements and understand what its employees need to be successful. Law firms need to find the balance of a technologically savvy workspace and the importance of private space. Essentially, law firms should be asking “How can we position ourselves to better support our attorneys and serve our clients not just today, but for the next 10 to 30 years?”
The need to shift and change the workplace is driven by many factors—technology, profitability, attracting young talent, increasing productivity, the well-being of the employee and creating a client employee-friendly space. It doesn’t matter whether you are a law firm, a corporation or a financial services firm; these trends impact everyone.
Take Northwestern Mutual. With direction from CBRE, the financial security firm recently signed a 25,000-square foot lease in a redesigned free-addressing space. Despite long-standing traditions, Northwestern Mutual’s leadership saw an opportunity to revolutionize its office, leading them to reach out to CBRE’s Workplace team. The new space features abundant natural light, a client-focused experience, and a variety of workstations, private meeting rooms, and an espresso bar. Complimentary snacks, a wellness room, and standing desks underscore the firm’s commitment to the well-being of its people. To address privacy concerns, CBRE designed the shared environment with enclosed areas, including large huddle rooms and client meeting spaces that can be booked in advance. With similar functional needs, this is a prime example of what modern space may look like for a law firm.
While the transformation in the legal industry from a conventional office to a shared workspace may be years away, designing a flexible space with standardized technology and effective collaboration tools will be part of every law firm’s design at some point in the future.
About the Author
Stephen Bay is the vice chairman of CBRE, the largest commercial real estate services firm in the world. He has devoted his career to the exclusive representation of office occupiers, specializing in the occupancy strategies of premier law firms. Contact him at Stephen.Bay@cbre.com.