A person visiting a traditional law firm will recognize the fairly standard layout: Large, well-appointed offices with sweeping exterior views for senior partners, some smaller offices – but mostly grey cubicle for associates and paralegals, plenty of nooks for copy machines, lots of doors and hallways and, of course, storage rooms for box files and court documents.
Some law firms across Canada and in the U.S. are choosing to renovate their office spaces in more contemporary styles. Others are moving to more flexible and open work environments. The changes, they say, are dictated by cost-cutting, improving employee satisfaction, greater work efficiency, and clients’ demands for more affordable legal services.
What do the new law offices look like? Many are smaller, featuring open collaborative work spaces, “huddle” spaces instead of private offices, and clustered work stations for support staff. Some law firms are even abandoning the idea that the more senior the partner, the bigger the office. In the new scenario, every attorney gets the same size office, period.
As they embrace new office-space ideas, some firms are also rethinking their fee structures, abandoning the concept of variable hourly fees based on a lawyer’s seniority or expertise. Instead, they’re adopting “value-based flat fees” that align the financial interests of both law firm and paying client, according to a recent article in Canadian Lawyer Magazine.
Firms operating in a flat-fee structure have greater incentives to do the best possible work in the shortest amount of time, and clients benefit from overall lower costs for the legal work.
The Biggest Change? Where and How Lawyers Work
Business and law publications have taken note of the shift in work environments in the legal profession.
- A Minneapolis law firm is moving 160 of its workers into a new open office work space in a renovated food court, while its IT department is moving into a renovated McDonald’s restaurant, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. The move saves on rent by reducing the average per-employee square footage to 200 from an industry average of 700-800, according to Rick Anderson, CEO of Fish & Richardson law firm, who is quoted in the article. Another benefit: more collaboration and higher satisfaction among back-office employees who now get to enjoy offices with windows and views – a perk otherwise reserved for senior partners in traditional law offices. The new Fish & Richardson office will include flexible plug-in cubicles, stand-up work desks, treadmill desks and a lunch room that can be enjoyed by all, not just the senior partners. The IT workers in the former McDonald’s location will enjoy natural light from eight skylights.
- Crain’s Chicago Business notes that some major law firms are redesigning and scaling back the sizes of their offices, both to control costs as the legal profession continues its recovery from the 2008 recession, and to create more open, collaborative work environments. One firm eliminated larger offices for senior partners; every lawyer gets 165 square feet. Glass-fronted offices create more spacious environments, and storage rooms are being downsized or eliminated as files move to electronic and cloud platforms. According to CBRE, a real estate firm quoted in the Crain’s article, “law firms that have completed the 10 largest lease deals in downtown Chicago since 2013 have shrunk their floor plans by an average of 18%.”
Work Spaces Built for Collaboration, Professionalism
Law firms are embracing a trend that has been emerging in the commercial office marketplace for a number of years, a trend marked by shared office spaces, smaller offices, remote worker opportunities and other flexible work arrangements.
Smaller firms or solo-practice lawyers, in particular, are looking into shared office locations like iQ Office Suites, which has two downtown Toronto locations that provide sophisticated, upscale and flexible work spaces. Our range of office options can meet the workplace needs of small- to medium-sized law firms, solo law practices, or satellite offices for firms moving into a new city. Law firms benefit from affordable, predictable leases; full technology and office amenities; access to meeting rooms and event spaces; and the ability to reconfigure shared office environments as a firm grows and evolves.