SteelCase

Empire Office

Workplace Trends, Legally Speaking

Written by: Empire Marketing

In the business world as we know it today, 43% of all US employees work remotely. This can’t come to a huge surprise as we all know handfuls of people who don’t report to an office every day. Reports claim that when employers offer a variety of work settings, there is a 12% increase in employee satisfaction.

In our audit within the legal industry, we found that many of our legal clients reflect a wide range of workplace strategies and layout/product choices, and not necessarily all have jumped on the bandwagon with regard to this new way of working.

While some are edging more towards a future-thinking workplace, others are still very traditional in their mindset. We do expect to see many more firms start to explore alternate strategies as their current leases expire and they prepare for the influx of the next generation of attorneys. While most leases are 10-15 years, that means most companies today are planning for the workplace needs of 2030 and beyond.

CBRE has estimated that 29 million square feet of law firm lease space is set to expire in the next 5 years. (Half of these lease expirations are in New York, Houston, Chicago & Washington D.C.)

In the legal industry specifically:

  • SF per attorney is reducing: 600-700 square feet per attorney vs. 900-1k SF in past.
  • Overall SF is reducing: 10-30% reduction in overall square footage of law firms.
  • Staff/ overhead is reducing: 4-6 attorneys are now supported by just 1 legal assistant, a sharp increase from 1-2 just ten years ago.
  • The next generation taking over: more than 50% of all lawyers in the US will be millenials by 2025, and that number is expected to rise to 75% by 2030.

While we know workplace planning is in a constant state of flux, we find it’s interesting to look at some of the nuances with regards to specific verticals while also comparing them to some of the macroeconomic drivers for change.

  1. INCREASED REAL ESTATE COSTS: Forcing firms to choose between downsizing or relocating.
  2. EXPECTATIONS OF THE NEXT GENERATION: Incoming workforce expects a certain level of technology access & cares less about status.
  3. INCREASED COLLABORATION IN LEGAL PROCESS: Rising need for more shared spaces and collaborative solutions.
  4. HEIGHTENED COMPETITION FOR TALENT: Competing with financial and tech companies to attract/retain talent; using space as a recruiting tool.
  5. INCREASED PRESSURE ON ATTORNEY RATES: Finding ways to work more efficiently in order to pass the savings on to clients.
  6. LESS CLIENTS IN OFFICE: Shifting workplace strategy from client-focused to more worker-focused.

From our viewpoint, we see many shifts starting to happen. Some mirror what we see currently happening in other industries, and some are different due to the unique needs and habits of legal workplaces.

FLEXIBILITY

  • Solutions that evolve over time
  • Spaces that work harder (shared offices, multipurpose, touchdown, etc.)
  • Choice of space to match the type of work at-hand

STANDARDS CHANGING

  • Less hierarchy-based distinctions
  • Similar footprint for all attorneys
  • Hassle-free moves/adds/changes
  • Future-proofing for incoming staff
  • Storage that varies by department

SMART LAYOUT

  • Goodbye corner office, hello corner collaboration spaces
  • Files banks & libraries along windows to easily convert to offices
  • Push for off-site or cloud file storage

WELLNESS

  • Sit-to-stand and treadmill desks for attorneys’ long work hours
  • Hospitality-inspired touches
  • Sense of warmth through fabric/finish, paint & artwork selections

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

  • Glass walls to provide visibility w/ privacy
  • Internal staircase to connect teams
  • Elaborate eating spaces to break bread & build culture

In a world where it appears the norm is inching closer towards remote working, legal firms are sticking to the philosophy of creating a place that people want to come to because they can’t get the tools, technology and peer-to-peer interaction anywhere else.

SOURCES

Gallup State of the American Workplace Report 2017

BISNOW: Law Firms Are ‘Future-Proofing’ The Workplace To Remain Competitive

BISNOW: Goodbye Dark And Dreary, Hello Open, Well-Lit Law Office

CBRE 2017 US Law Firm Trends Report

BISNOW: Law Firms Are ‘Future-Proofing’ The Workplace To Remain Competitive / CBRE 2017 US Law Firm Trends Report

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