The legal industry is finally changing the way it occupies office space
Here in Orange County, we have been seeing some major changes in the layouts and uses of office space as businesses embrace workplace strategy, and increasingly take advantage of new technologies and recognizing the benefits of flexible work spaces and schedules – both on their employees’ efficiency and on their company dollar.
Traditional work spaces are being replaced with customized, creative and flexible spaces as employers in many industries are recognizing the importance of workplace strategy to show top talent that their workplace (not just their company) is the place to be. Blank white walls, beige carpets, large corner offices and congregations of cubicles are being replaced with open floor plans, designated collaborative and activity-based work spaces , ping-pong tables and colorful surroundings, along with other changes geared toward improving employee effectiveness, flow and overall performance and productivity.
While we have consistently seen these progressions in office space layouts and workplace strategy across industries, there is one industry, deeply rooted in tradition, that is behind the curve: the legal industry.
Law firms, for the most part look and act the same ways now as they did 15-20 years ago. A typical law firm tends to be full of large, isolated offices for its attorneys, multiple conference rooms, large libraries and file rooms, staff seated in cubicles congregated in the middle of the space, and generic artwork on blank white walls. The standard law firm layout has created an impersonal and stale workspace, whereas a more contemporary layout and the utilization of an effective workplace strategy and new technologies could really benefit the people in, and the environment of a law firm.
To eliminate wasted space, law firms could do away with file-storage rooms/areas. But how? Talk to any attorney, and they will tell you that you can’t get rid of ANYTHING you have worked on, no matter how long you’ve been practicing law. For most attorneys, this means that their offices (and garages and storage units) are stacked floor to ceiling with boxes full of files and other important documentation, and their respective firms dedicate large rooms for this same purpose. This is a major space-eater, and is frankly unnecessary with advancements in technology. Law firms should utilize software that specializes in digitized-document-storage for high volumes of files and in which security is of upmost importance. Similarly, programs like Westlaw and Lexis Nexis are turning office libraries into something of the past, so get rid of them and create a more open, usable and flowing work space.
Another crucial step toward modernizing a law firm’s office space would be to adopt a more collaborative and flowing layout of the office space. I am not suggesting law firms do away with private offices, but I think firms would benefit from collaborative spaces intertwined with the private office format. For example, attorneys (especially in larger firms) usually only communicate through email. This norm could change if firms had designated space to work together in a collaborative and stimulating environment.
But where would this extra space come from? With employees taking up less and less space on average, and adopting the “start-up” layout of shared round tables for staff and picnic-style tables for teams to come together and work, circulation in the office would increase which would directly affect energy and collaboration.
So why should law firms modernize their office space? The reason is that their people and company will benefit! Businesses in all industries are recognizing the importance of workplace strategy, not just to attract top talent, but also to boost morale and raise their employees’ productivity. Lawyers would greatly benefit from a work environment predicated on the ability to share and collaborate, but also have the ability to escape to an office if need be.