By Gavin Curtis
Less square footage, more collaborative space and a “tech-like” feel.
That’s the verdict, as they say, in new research conducted about law firm leases over the past year in the post-pandemic era. Led by the popularity of working from home, the survey indicates many law firms have embraced the hybrid work model, and are taking the opportunity to reimagine their spaces to appeal to the multi-generational and newly embraced work life integration habits experienced over the past few years.
Since many attorneys now work from home two-to-three days a week, the overall square footage needs for many law firms has been reduced by 25%, with some individual offices decreasing by 40%—from 200 to 120 square feet. Another redesign revealed is that a number of firms are doing away with large and private offices for attorneys who are only in the office twice a week, moving instead to a hoteling system, by which office users can just “plug & play” in a specifically designated space.
Another trend impacting the industry is that more firms are now opting for universal office sizes. This new concept is not only more efficient—creating 50 private offices in the same space that used to have 42, for instance—but it removes the sense of hierarchy, and the large corner-office status of leadership. Overall, workstations are shrinking too, with the average unit being reduced by 33%.
Evolving technology has also inspired other changes in law firm office spaces. The once-ubiquitous law library has been digitized, allowing for the transformation of the space that used to be dedicated to shelves of books, to becoming a lounge area with high-end comfortable seating and coffee tables—a place for connection and collaboration. Traditional conference rooms have also undergone a tech transformation as Zoom calls have become the norm. Many meeting spaces have been specially outfitted for video meetings with sophisticated audio and video capabilities, to maintain legalese performance.
Along with these physical changes has come an innovation in visual design as well. Gone are the dark woods and solid walls of yesteryear. Today’s offices are outfitted with glass walls and doors, allowing for the flow of natural light to brighten the entire space. Walls are decorated with colorful works of art and modern interior design elements. High-end, upgraded and full-size kitchens give the office a feeling more like home, and also allows for cooking and a place to connect with colleagues.
Having communal spaces for interaction is important for younger attorneys who are always seeking mentorship and acceptance opportunities with all levels. Being able to attract and retain younger legal talent is one reason for this new design trend of less “conservative corporate” and more “cool tech titan,” and is very much needed within the industry. Think about it—if you’re signing a 10-year lease today, the junior attorneys you’ll have in 10 years are currently in high school! To attract new talent, a space needs to be modern, high-tech and exciting, and should provide the same elements and features they’ve grown accustomed to at their high schools and universities.
These trends are all aspects of a reinspired office space that law firms should consider in order to be the most competitive and successful. A best approach is to start the renovation process at least 18 months prior to the current lease expiration, having decision-makers connect with an architect, who may need to spend two or three months analyzing the square footage needs.
Another major concept to consider is how a firm will embrace remote work. What will that look like at your firm? Will you convert to standard-size offices or keep a few larger spaces for senior partners? How does the technology capacity and utilization need to evolve? This process can take longer than you might expect, depending on how quickly the decision-makers can come to an agreement.
We encourage you to take a look at the research and know what the trends and possibilities are while keeping your future needs at the forefront. The model of hybrid work has already brought many changes to the law office landscape, and other transformations could be right around the corner. To create a space that will retain and attract the brightest legal minds of tomorrow, it’s best to start planning today.
At Hughes Marino, we pride ourselves on being a valuable partner in negotiating a lease, planning, design and construction project management. Our experts are knowledgeable about today’s law firm leases and trends, and know the best practices to guide your firm to the best spaces for your continued growth and success.
Gavin Curtis is a senior vice president at Hughes Marino, a global corporate real estate advisory firm that exclusively represents tenants and buyers. Contact Gavin at 1-844-662-6635 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.