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Tech, talent search and space reduction drive law firm changes

Change is a fact of life for law firms today, and leadership is fully aware—three in four survey respondents noted their firm’s partners are receptive to change. This need for change centers around two central premises: the need to improve real estate efficiency to stay lean and cost-competitive, and the need to evolve to attract talent and accommodate new ways of working.

Despite these initiatives, the majority of respondents to a recent survey by Gensler Research Institute reported that their firm continues to lease more space than is necessary. Larger firms are more likely to have excess space on their books. Recently designed firms are less likely to have excess space, confirming the focus on space reduction in recent years—though even among those whose offices have been redesigned recently, one in three reported their firm still has more space than is necessary.

Respondents noted the adoption of new technology, managing an increasingly multi-generational workforce, and the war for top talent as key trends impacting the legal industry. Approaching these trends proactively is of vital importance for a firm’s long-term survival. Panelists also felt they were lacking a consistent set of best practices by which to adopt these trends successfully, particularly given a future that is largely unknown.

What this means

Tech-enabled mobility is gaining wide acceptance. When respondents were asked about the likelihood of their firms implementing the progressive work and workplace strategies highlighted in our exhibit, technology and out-of-office mobility topped the list, followed by in-office mobility and reduced paper. Importantly, all of these strategies are reliant on effective mobile work and tools as well as organizational policies that encourage flexibility and anywhere-working. Currently these strategies appear focused on attorneys—mobility for non-legal staff ranks lower in likelihood.

Adoption of open environments is tentative. While firms appear focused on increasing choice and mobility, the parallel adoption of more open-plan environments that often comes alongside these shifts is slower to be embraced. While early adopters exist, mostly in the UK, US firms have been more likely to seek efficiency via interior and/or smaller attorney offices, and multi-use spaces.

Talent and workforce shifts are top-of-mind. Generational and talent issues ranked among the top trends impacting the legal business. This focus on talent, alongside the recognized importance of technology, may explain legal firms’ interest in mobility and technology, and their tentative approach to adopting more open or shared workplace environments.

Flexibility is the first line of defense against uncertainty. With an uncertain future ahead, our respondents noted the importance of keeping the workplace flexible to accommodate change. Three out of four respondents ranked the ability to reconfigure their workplace easily and quickly as important, and the importance appears to be even more paramount for larger firms. These strategies are all the more important as firms seek to carry less inventory, opting to manage staff fluctuations by reconfiguring furniture and density levels instead of allowing space to stay empty while waiting for future occupants.

What’s next?

Respondents noted significant openness to change, underscoring that dramatic shifts will continue in the legal workplace. Our findings suggest that as law firms increasingly embrace alternative workplace strategies, their focus will be on those that help them maximize space efficiency while also improving the workplace experience. Building in flexibility from the start is a key example, and allows today’s work environments to adapt to and support future needs while ensuring firms get the most out of their real estate investments.











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