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In 2019, law firm workplaces accounted for 5.9% of all U.S. office leases according to CBRE. But real estate investment headlines like this – “Law Firms are Dumping Office Space” – can leave the impression the law office is dead.
It’s not entirely true. In just one example, Alabama law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP recently relocated to Dallas, Texas. The move tripled their headcount and more than doubled their workspace in a strategy to attract top talent and expand nationally. (Source)
But while law firm workplaces aren’t extinct, they’re definitely evolving. After salaries, real estate is one of the highest expenditures for law firms. So even before the coronavirus pandemic, law firms were “rethinking their corporate footprint,” according to Barbara Dunn, a Gensler Principle and Studio Director. She states that relocations reduced office space by an average of 30%. And lease renewals for law firms downsized workspace by 15% or more. Other firms are opting for shorter leases and hoteling options. (Source)
What about the touted benefits of a modern work environment on productivity, culture and talent retention? Dunn shares that pre-pandemic occupancy studies showed that private attorney’s offices were empty 40% of the time. Downsizing is a trend whose time has come.
The Trend Toward Hybrid Workspaces and Schedules
All across professional industries, employees are shifting from last year’s full-time remote arrangements. But not to full-time in the office.
The new law firm workspace emerging is something in between. Commercial spaces are still needed for some face-to-face meetings, but they are changing. As the industry moves forward, communal and shared-office spaces and conference areas will become more prevalent. Individual work spaces in the office will likely decrease in favor of collaborating and mentoring areas. (Source)
These hybrid solutions align with Gensler’s Work From Home 2020 Survey on legal workers’ preferences for something in between. Just 12% want to work from home full-time. Similarly, a recent ALA poll confirmed that nearly 88% of respondents oppose a 100% remote environment. (Source)
But given the rise of the Great Resignation, even legal workers are leaving the workforce at unprecedented rates, citing work flexibility as one of the top five reasons. The leverage employees now wield means organizations – even law firms – must adapt or die. It is imperative that law firms support new workers’ expectations and behaviors. The good news? This brave new world can benefit firms financially.
Technology has already – and will continue to be – an important driver in the success of this new hybrid law firm workplace model. Efficient cloud-based solutions for client portals, time tracking, and law firm analytics are just a few of the tools that will be essential to the success of these hybrid trends. Again, this is a benefit to law firms. According to Clio Legal Management solution’s 2020 Trend Report, “Firms using multiple technologies collected 20% more per month per lawyer in 2020.”
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