In the aftermath of the pandemic, the landscape of work environments has undergone significant shifts across all industries, including the legal sector. As companies strive to redefine their work arrangements, the focus is not only on meeting the expectations of employees but also on maintaining high standards of service for clients. Whether expanding their space to support growth or downsizing as a result of new ways of working, legal firms keen on optimizing their workspaces to cater to the needs of both their workforce and clientele.

Real estate as a key factor

The dynamics of the real estate market play a crucial role in shaping the choices available to law firms in designing their workspaces. Following the pandemic, there has been an increase in available office space in most markets, providing firms with opportunities to lease premium locations while occupying less space. Prioritizing quality over quantity, firms are willing to invest in smaller, upscale offices that offer a remarkable experience for both clients and employees.

Multiple factors are impacting the legal workplace.

To maximize the utility of smaller footprints, law firms are adopting various strategies, including reducing private and open office spaces, implementing a hoteling model for hybrid employees, utilizing landlord amenity spaces for large gatherings, and outsourcing support functions. Future-proof design concepts emphasize flexibility and the integration of multifunctional spaces to accommodate diverse programmatic needs.

With more efficient real estate utilization as a primary driver, building in spaces that can accommodate multiple programs and functions will be key to the future of law firm design. From conference rooms that open to create large gathering spaces, to breakrooms that can flex to become a third workplace or all-hands meeting space, an attitude of flexibility and the blending between public and private will become a new normal.

Adapting to workforce changes

The legal sector is experiencing workforce shifts like those seen across other industries. In a recent survey, recruitment and retention was the most cited business competition issue for law firms. (1) To remain competitive, firms are embracing changes in fee structures, work styles, technological integration, remote work capabilities, cybersecurity measures, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and expansion strategies through mergers and acquisitions.

A variety of settings are considered as legal practices optimize their space.

Designing for efficiency and flexibility

Driven by market competitiveness and cost considerations, law firms are prioritizing efficiency and overhead reductions in their office designs. Optimal office design strategies should be inherently flexible and include:

  • Support for a variety in work modes*
  • Integrated technology*
  • Hybrid scheduling and desk/office sharing*
  • Design for health and wellness*
  • Light transmission/transparency
  • Multi-function spaces
  • Wellness & access to daylight & views
  • Amenities supporting diverse cultures
  • Less formal aesthetic

* Post-pandemic emphasis

While private offices remain essential for confidential meetings, their size and allocation are evolving to prioritize function over status. Smaller assigned offices and on-demand office spaces cater to the changing needs of a hybrid work environment.

Employee-centric design

Tomorrow's legal workforce demands greater flexibility and a conducive work environment that fosters productivity and well-being. Design elements such as lounges, cafes, wellness areas, and cultural accommodations enhance the overall employee experience and aid in talent attraction and retention.

Adapting to evolving workplace trends requires a mindset of flexibility and an investment in versatile design solutions. From modular room sizing to movable partitions, law firms must prioritize adaptability to maximize their real estate investments and long-term success.

In the evolving landscape of legal workspaces, quality and adaptability are paramount. By creating environments that leave a lasting impression on clients and employees, law firms can elevate their organizational identity and cultivate meaningful experiences for all stakeholders.

1. The 2020 National Legal Sector Benchmark Survey Results.