Posted by Jennifer Macqueen
Over 20-years ago, a Seattle-based law firm made industry news when the 38-attorney firm revolutionized the traditional law firm model – operationally and visually.
Operationally, all attorneys were made equity partners – an equal vested interest in the firm – and all professionals were rewarded for the firm’s successes. Visually, they created an open space working environment with all attorneys and professionals having equal size work areas. Walls were replaced with half walls, no walls or sets of cubicles. This was news in an industry where everything is based on precedent – the firm was doing a “first” and in a big way.
They then marketed themselves as being focused on customer service and not on all the other stuff – big offices, lavish furniture, and hierarchies. They were truly living their brand message of being “innovative” and “creative.” The firm quickly became known for its cutting edge approach to practicing law. It was immediately recognized as a desirable place for attorneys and professionals to work.
Fast forward to 2018, that Seattle firm continues to operate under that model and also continues to be a desirable place to work. Since then, many other firms have followed suit with creative back office and front office changes.
Today’s highly competitive legal market, is forcing law firms worldwide to reevaluate all aspects of doing business. Ensuring they are attracting more quality business from existing clients and new clients, while also recruiting the best talent.
When firms’ renewing existing leases, and entering new leases, an opportunity is presented to evolve. Law firms and building owners, are giving architects more freedom to stray from the age-old law firm floor plan. They are considering options to do something different – perhaps better, less expensive, more open, and welcoming.
Some negotiated space renovations include significantly reducing large offices by erecting walls to divide footage – turning one big office into two or three offices or cubicles. A much greater focus is being placed on reducing the grandiose interiors to less expensive and more functional spaces. Expensive art collections, high-end furnishings, hallways lined with expansive offices, are looked at as unnecessary overhead and inefficient. Law firm interiors of the past are being replaced with an atmosphere that promotes teamwork and is more desirable to the younger generation of lawyers and staff…as well as, more comfortable for visiting clients.
As reported in this January 2nd issue of Canadian Lawyer, founder of a new Calgary-based firm stated, “I work a lot at home or at the airport…when I’m at the office, sometimes I’m in a shared space with my assistant. Or I’ll pull up to one of the common tables if I’m reading a lot of documents, I can just find a comfortable chair in one of the nooks. Or I can make phone calls from one of the private spaces.” This firm, and others like it, continue to have private conference rooms of varying sizes, and private phone rooms (like a small closet with a chair, desk and door for privacy).
Younger lawyers in today’s market as well as future grads, are not interested in spending their day alone in a fancy office. They like working in open, team-oriented environments that promote collaboration. As the founder of the Canadian firm says, “I’m not interested in spending a lot of money on overhead or in any kind of ego-based business model. What I offer lawyers is a chance to work from anywhere. If you need to meet with a client or have a sensitive conversation, there are conference rooms. But personal offices don’t mean much to today’s grads. The things they want are more freedom and money.”
The best assets of every business, including the business of law, are people. Those people who have a problem and retain your firm to help, and those talented people the firm employs to do the work. A extravagant law office with gallery level art, means nothing without good clients and happy employees.
If your firm is in the process of renewing or entering a new lease, read this article and consider sharing it with your architect. I also encourage you to conduct a few searches and read about other firms, globally, that have taken this approach without looking back.
As always, contact us if we can be of help in your firm’s marketing, business development or client service efforts. We’re ready and happy to help.