Change of Plans: The Evolution of Law Firm Office Space

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Change of Plans

Like all other sectors, the legal industry is faced with changing demands around how it conducts business, interacts with clients and attracts and retains talent. More than 100 law firm leaders joined JLL this morning at Rustle & Roux to discuss what law firms need to do to stay competitive and how that is reflected in their real estate.

JLL research guru Christian Beaudoin set the stage, reinforcing the importance of law firms in the downtown office landscape. Law firms represent 42 percent of pre-leased space in Chicago’s new office towers under development, highlighting a subtle shift in tenant demand to the north and west. While 75 percent of JLL corporate clients have adopted open plan workspaces, what’s really going on inside law offices?

Change of Plans

Flanked by JLL’s Steve Steinmeyer and Bill Rogers, our panelists included: NELSON’s Marty Festenstein, Gary Lee Partners’ David Grout and Gensler’s Jim Prendergast.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

The issue of competitiveness is paramount when law firms consider relocation or renovation, NELSON’s Marty Festenstein said. He’s seeing firms realize the greatest financial impact through thoughtful space reductions, ranging from 15 percent on the low end to as high as 25 percent reduction in occupancy. Flexibility to modify space in real time, branding and accommodation of varying work styles are key in law office design, but most critical is a solution unique to the office culture.

Law Office Trends

Gensler’s Jim Prendergast said law firm clients ask him two big questions:

  1. Is universal size office viable and what size should it be?
  2. How much glass are we going to have?

Spurred by the tech sector, these trends represent both physical and metaphorical transparency in a law office, Jim said, which needs to be balanced with the 65 percent of lawyers’ days spent in heads-down private time. While market conditions move faster than drywall, offices have become organisms that need to breathe organically with changing business dynamics.

Happenstance Collaboration

Planned meeting scenarios are easy to find in law offices. But how to facilitate chance, fruitful and frequently revenue-generating encounters? It’s about observing the way law firm employees interact and reflecting the culture and brand in the space design. A relocation or renovation is a good time to take a hard look at company culture and ensure your law office is a place that makes people want to come in and work together, Gary Lee Partners’ David Grout said.

Tech. The New Millwork and Marble.

As the costs of virtual presence technology continue to decline, tech-forward collaboration tools have become a major differentiator for law firms. Technology, with a dash of hospitality, helps law firms keep hard-working employees comfortable, clients in the office longer (i.e. come for a 10am meeting but stay to work remotely with state-of-the-art business amenities) and demonstrates company investments in productivity and efficiency.

Looking ahead, robotic applications, artificial intelligence and virtual meeting technology will disrupt and profoundly restructure the legal industry. Approximately 35 percent of law firm leaders believe supercomputers will one day be used for work law associates do today, Jim joked, which begs the real question – How will we train them? The associates, that is.

The Takeaway

As real estate footprints rightsize to gain efficiencies, law firms are taking a hard look at buzzwords like “collaboration” and “Millennials” and how to incorporate them into their uniquely private and paper-centric business. Successful law offices of the future will leverage modernized space plans and technology, empowering lawyers to be more engaged and responsive with the people that matter most—their clients.

For more information on JLL’s law firm solutions, please contact:
Bill Rogers – @BRogersChi
Steve Steinmeyer – @Steino_TRep
Brian Means – @BrianMeans_JLL

View our latest law firm research here.

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