Evolving Legal Workspaces

Written by: Fran Horowitz

Today’s law offices face the same challenge as other businesses across industries post-Covid–creating a space that employees want to work in. Previously designed primarily as a tool to demonstrate status and prestige for clients, firms are being more responsive to their employees’ work modes and needs, employing a more human-centered approach.  

Steelcase researchers discovered what legal professionals need and how to design spaces that meet these needs. They found that employee inclusion, flexibility, and regeneration are the three key factors driving the workplace experience for legal professionals today.

  • Inclusive – Law firms need to bring more diverse voices into the conversation to design for everyone’s needs, work modes, and work processes. 
  • Flexible – Law firms need to design for flexibility of space, tools, and technology to create higher-performing experiences. 
  • Regenerative – Law firms need to support emerging employee values with a work experience that is regenerative and restorative. 

Law firms are making changes and redesigning their offices to meet these new employee expectations and ways of working. Barbara Dunn, a principal and studio leader at Gensler’s Los Angeles office, sees law offices becoming “smaller, more flexible, more collaborative and more client-focused and technology-enabled.” Gensler’s tips for rethinking the law office can be found here.  

Deborah Nemeth, an Interior Designer at SmithGroup, shares how inspiration from two other industries, higher education and hospitality, are influencing the next evolution of the law office. Today’s law students are trained through highly interactive educational experiences that take place in a variety of active learning classrooms and environments, including small group collaboration and problem-solving activities. This has led to the creation of more social spaces within law offices, such as lounges, teaming areas, and huddle rooms.

A hospitality-centric space is another key driver for the future law office as attorneys have become accustomed to the comforts of home while working remotely during the pandemic. The addition of large open café spaces and hotel-like bar areas to host clients and firm gatherings has become popular amongst offices. “These spaces are infused with a variety of seating types, much like one would see in a coffee shop or hotel lobby, with an emphasis on soft seating,” Nemeth continued.

Law offices are also challenged with using their physical office space most efficiently to reflect today’s changing expectations. In 2022, CBRE Workplace surveys found a preference for flexible work in many law firms. While most associates and partners reported a preference to spend at least 50% of their time in the office, they also placed a high value on a policy allowing for some remote working.

Some firms have successfully implemented open and hybrid strategies to improve collaboration and talent retention while reducing their occupancy costs. CBRE states that space trends will continue to evolve, so most firms are designing flexible layouts that include portions of their space (10%-40%) to accommodate hybrid/non-assigned teams in the future. 

Law firms are making changes. Existing design typologies are transforming to meet new demands. There are new expectations around flexible work, inclusive of everyone, and regenerative experiences. These expectations are impacting the functionality of traditional spaces, shifting to be more high-performing and multi-purpose.  

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