As part of Vancouver’s efforts to keep pace with global changes in working trends, the city has become home to a growing number of coworking spaces in recent years, enabling solo workers and small companies to share desk space in a communal and collaborative environment.
At long last, there seems to be a bright light shining on the economy in Canada and across North America. As the economy rebounds, employers are hiring again and consumers are feeling more confident about their jobs – and the future in general.
But the legal profession, still trying to recover from lost revenues during the recent global recession, is exploring new ways to reduce overhead costs. One of their targets is the cost of leasing and maintaining impressive offices – representing 8% or even more of an average law firm’s expenses, according to some estimates, and ranking second only to the cost of attorneys’’ salaries.
Law firms look at re-configuring spaces
As a result, law firms – especially harder-hit small and medium-size firms –have been forced to rethink their approach to spending without sacrificing the prestige of a well-appointed, professional office space.
Some of these approaches include:
- Shrinking offices: Offices of senior partners are shrinking in size, from as high as 900 square feet per senior attorney to less than 500 square feet by 2020, according to Attorney at Work. Less- tenured attorneys and associates may have offices in the 120-to-200-square foot configuration.
- More meeting, collaboration spaces: Attorney at Work also points out that as lawyers’ private offices shrink, their firms’ space needs will grow for activities that include client events, meetings and “relationship-building, when the value of face-to-face communication is paramount.” Conference rooms, open meeting areas and client-accessible lounges can serve as flexible work spaces for client meetings and law-firm business.
- Less need for file storage: Digital records and cloud storage are reducing the need for large file rooms and paper files, allowing some firms to downsize quite significantly or use that space more creatively and efficiently. Remote-city offices and satellite offices can manage space more efficiently by storing necessary files in home offices.
- More efficient office hiring strategies: Like businesses everywhere, law firms are trying to be as efficient as possible, often by hiring fewer paralegals and legal assistants, or pooling and sharing them more judiciously within the firm.
Despite the rising cost of commercial office space– a sign of the rebounded economy – more flexible work space options are available than ever before for attorneys and legal practitioners striking out on their own.
These include shared office environments that provide the perfect mix of private-office professionalism, client-friendly meeting spaces, and the latest in world class amenities and technology, enabling firms to be up and running in a new office the very same day. And with flexible and affordable leasing options.
The end of the recent recession, it turns out, is creating new opportunities for legal professionals to reshape and redefine the business environments in which they operate.
A person visiting a traditional law firm will recognize the fairly standard layout: Large, well-appointed offices with sweeping exterior views for senior partners, some smaller offices – but mostly grey cubicle for associates and paralegals, plenty of nooks for copy machines, lots of doors and hallways and, of course, storage rooms for box files and court documents.
Some law firms across Canada and in the U.S. are choosing to renovate their office spaces in more contemporary styles. Others are moving to more flexible and open work environments. The changes, they say, are dictated by cost-cutting, improving employee satisfaction, greater work efficiency, and clients’ demands for more affordable legal services.
What do the new law offices look like? Many are smaller, featuring open collaborative work spaces, “huddle” spaces instead of private offices, and clustered work stations for support staff. Some law firms are even abandoning the idea that the more senior the partner, the bigger the office. In the new scenario, every attorney gets the same size office, period.
As they embrace new office-space ideas, some firms are also rethinking their fee structures, abandoning the concept of variable hourly fees based on a lawyer’s seniority or expertise. Instead, they’re adopting “value-based flat fees” that align the financial interests of both law firm and paying client, according to a recent article in Canadian Lawyer Magazine.
Firms operating in a flat-fee structure have greater incentives to do the best possible work in the shortest amount of time, and clients benefit from overall lower costs for the legal work.
The Biggest Change? Where and How Lawyers Work
Business and law publications have taken note of the shift in work environments in the legal profession.
- A Minneapolis law firm is moving 160 of its workers into a new open office work space in a renovated food court, while its IT department is moving into a renovated McDonald’s restaurant, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. The move saves on rent by reducing the average per-employee square footage to 200 from an industry average of 700-800, according to Rick Anderson, CEO of Fish & Richardson law firm, who is quoted in the article. Another benefit: more collaboration and higher satisfaction among back-office employees who now get to enjoy offices with windows and views – a perk otherwise reserved for senior partners in traditional law offices. The new Fish & Richardson office will include flexible plug-in cubicles, stand-up work desks, treadmill desks and a lunch room that can be enjoyed by all, not just the senior partners. The IT workers in the former McDonald’s location will enjoy natural light from eight skylights.
- Crain’s Chicago Business notes that some major law firms are redesigning and scaling back the sizes of their offices, both to control costs as the legal profession continues its recovery from the 2008 recession, and to create more open, collaborative work environments. One firm eliminated larger offices for senior partners; every lawyer gets 165 square feet. Glass-fronted offices create more spacious environments, and storage rooms are being downsized or eliminated as files move to electronic and cloud platforms. According to CBRE, a real estate firm quoted in the Crain’s article, “law firms that have completed the 10 largest lease deals in downtown Chicago since 2013 have shrunk their floor plans by an average of 18%.”
Work Spaces Built for Collaboration, Professionalism
Law firms are embracing a trend that has been emerging in the commercial office marketplace for a number of years, a trend marked by shared office spaces, smaller offices, remote worker opportunities and other flexible work arrangements.
Smaller firms or solo-practice lawyers, in particular, are looking into shared office locations like iQ Office Suites, which has two downtown Toronto locations that provide sophisticated, upscale and flexible work spaces. Our range of office options can meet the workplace needs of small- to medium-sized law firms, solo law practices, or satellite offices for firms moving into a new city. Law firms benefit from affordable, predictable leases; full technology and office amenities; access to meeting rooms and event spaces; and the ability to reconfigure shared office environments as a firm grows and evolves.