by Dan Perruzzi
As the workplace continues to evolve, law firms are also changing rapidly in response to internal pressures and external market forces. Technology, generational change, and new business pressures are just a few of the demands that are creating new trends in law office design. To keep up, law firms are becoming more focused on how the quality of the workplace can reinforce firm culture and help attract and retain talent — and clients — in an increasingly competitive legal landscape.
While other industries are moving to remote work, lawyers still spend 70% of their time in the office. However, new workplace strategies are transforming legal offices across the country. Traditional large office footprints, private offices, spacious law libraries, and the 1:1 support-staff-to-lawyer ratio are fading to make way for new office environments that support today’s work styles, technological advances, and the need for more efficiency and flexibility.
As law firms face global competition, generational change, and leadership succession, these workplace strategies and trends should be considered when renovating, relocating, or designing a legal workplace for the future.
Engaging a multigenerational workforce
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Generation Y will account for 50% of the workforce by 2020, and Millennials will make up 75% of the legal workforce by 2025. Research shows that Millennials value a greater work/life balance than their Baby Boomer or Generation X counterparts. Providing innovative ways to better blend life and work, as well as injecting a fun factor into office spaces, can help firms evolve with the changing cultural attitudes and expectations across current and future generations. Varied work settings and common areas, like cafés and lounges with casual seating, are becoming more popular. As demographics change and Millennials move into management, expect to see more flexible layouts with larger collaborative spaces for team-based work, and smaller private spaces for quiet work and confidential meetings.
New ways of working
Technology is dramatically changing space allocation in law firms. Large rooms once used for law libraries loaded with books are dwindling as that information becomes digitized. Document scanning, e-signatures, and electronic filing are also shrinking the storage needs for document filing. Wireless connectivity and teleconferencing equipment are becoming standard office features to ensure productivity with virtual legal teams and global clients.
Law firms are increasingly turning to real estate as a strategy to create more efficient law practices and deliver cost-effective legal services. As firms decrease support staff and rely on contract attorneys, law firms are aggressively reducing their office footprint. Single-size offices are becoming more common, and space metrics are changing from the traditional 900sf to 1,000sf per attorney to 500sf to 600sf, according to JLL’s “Law Firm Perspective 2016.”
New attitudes about space design
Many law firms are incorporating support space designed for collaboration and team proximity, rather than proximity to partners. The old planning metrics of support staff to partners has dramatically changed, and more legal work is becoming group-based within a firm. The legal workplace is shifting from the traditional office/support/library model to spaces that offer open, collaborative areas for teamwork and social functions. Although attorneys still require private offices for focused, individual work, expect square footage efficiencies to continue. Design features such as low-walled workstations and glass-fronted offices provide greater transparency and better access to natural light and views, and modular construction is enabling firms to efficiently redesign a space as the organization changes and grows. The legal workplace is being designed with an eye toward increased collaboration, enhanced productivity, and greater employee satisfaction.
Lawyers in succeeding generations tend to value the office as a marketing tool, as well as the place where they spend the majority of their working time. As the legal profession evolves, these workplace trends and strategies will have significant impact on how law firms will operate in the future.
Dan Perruzzi, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal and senior partner at Margulies Perruzzi Architects.