Office space, particularly the law firm office isn’t lost forever. It is being reevaluated and reimagined. This is not only because attorneys and staff have been successfully working from home for the past year, but because most firms have been taking steps to reduce the size of the workforce. Certain roles are no longer necessary, or they have morphed into new hybrid positions.
The legal sector has typically trailed behind other industries in modernizing their workplace. The need for the right kind of office space is going to be more important than ever. Far fewer fixed offices that are assigned to attorneys, more touch-down spaces for employees that do not come to the office five days per week and conference centers that can be easily transformed to other uses.
Historically, 1,000 square feet per attorney was the norm. During the past 10 years we have been creating spaces that achieve 650 square feet per attorney. Some firms in progressive markets have gone down to 450 square feet. We have also seen the doubling-up of associates in markets like New York City and San Francisco.
Hoteling has also been discussed for law firms in recent years and we are beginning to move toward touchdown type of spaces for some attorneys. In addition, support staff and admin are also trying pooling zones and floors. Technology is anticipated to take the place of real estate as a firms second largest budget item following personnel.
This will enable law firms to be designed in a way that allows for more training spaces, collaborative spaces both social and client in nature, workrooms to facilitate document review for litigation matters. All done seamlessly with connection to those in the office and those working outside of the office.
We cannot forget that confidentiality and the focused nature of head-down work for attorneys and paralegals is key. Acoustical and visual privacy, as well as substantial collision points and collaboration spaces are essential for cross-selling and expertise sharing—encouraging interaction between attorneys. Mentoring and knowledge transferring is crucial for the longevity of a practice.
Covid-19 has certainly made a mark on how law firms are configuring and running their offices. Flexibility is key going forward. We won’t get it 100% right. The future of law offices will be unlike any law office environment we have seen to date. Progressive firms are going to look at every aspect of their operations and real estate and use this time to reinvent themselves.
David M. Chason
Partner, AEI Spaces
Office: 305.407.3514 Ext. 701