LawFuel Special Feature: The Modern Law Office – The Times They Are A’changing
When David Connor was seeking out a designer for his newly acquired premises in Auckland’s Queen Street he chose Gaze, who have vast “legal experience” working with firms including Tavendale & Partners, Kayes Fletcher Walker, Russell McVeagh, Meredith Connell, Cairns Slane, James & Wells, Greenwood Roche and Duncan Cotterill.
How the Modern Law Office is Changing
The modern law office today is a pale imitation of what the law firms of old once looked like. No more stuffed leather chairs – or at least not many – and book-lined walls.
It is, in essence, a design that has been about for a century or more. The private office has become the signal of success – a necessary attribute that many still feel hard to give up.
Technology has untethered lawyers from the office, as has society itself. The New Economy, the fast-changing workplace, the pressures from clients and expectations themselves have changed.
So too has the modern law office.
It is a change that is being embraced by firms, large and small, as they move into new premises or refurbish the old.
Law Firms Have Changed
Law firms are now also part of a new, values-based economic reality that means not only that time is money, but so too is space. Increasingly the price-sensitive clients, the growth of in-house legal teams and other factors are making law services more sensitive to pricing.
Lawyers and their service delivery is being tested by new technology, including artificial intelligence and legal start-ups revolutionizing the way the law is accessed and delivered.
All of which has impacted the design of law offices today – and New Zealand’s legal scene is no exception.
Among the key changes –
Firm Branding and image
The image of the law firm is more important than ever and the nature of their interior design is an important contributor to that. Apart from contributing towards firm productivity, the “image” of the firm itself is expressed through its office appearance.
Good design, colour and furnishing will help inspire lawyers to do their best work in a place they enjoy.
The Office Size
Office size for lawyers has altered dramatically. Ten years ago the average square footage of a lawyer’s private office space was approximately 225 square feet.
Today, we are seeing an average of closer to 176 square feet because of the increase in rentable square footage cost, the reduction in space required for technology and the decreased need for client meetings in the private office.
The Reception area
The entrance point for law firms is one of the key areas for law firms, helping to reinforce their brand and presence. The use of quality materials and increasingly technology to evidence how the firm is helping make the world a better place are two of the factors helping firms establish their identity.
These often focus on charitable and pro bono initiatives as the focus for clients, rather than the coffee table and comfy chairs alone. Offering quality coffee and a more ‘concierge style’ reception is also in vogue.
Using multifunctional spaces & rooms
The ability to use spaces differently and often with the ability to reconfigure spaces, as well as having function and break out rooms is another key trend. Studies show that flexible and multiple work-style workspaces increase productivity within firms, while combining spaces can both maximize functional square footage and create a more home-like or café-type environment.
Permitting computer monitors and Wifi laptop use is key, as are basic amenities such as healthy snacks and other client and lawyer-friendly attributes to these spaces that provide a more hospitable home-like atmosphere in which to work.
Although there is a clear preference with firms using single floor layouts (like Meredith Connell and Gallaway Cook Allan) the use of interconnecting stairs, such as that recentlly installed by Russell McVeagh’s Vero Building space, is a clear winner in terms of creating an interconnected and vibrant working environment.
Evidence is mounting that sitting for more than two hours a day is directly linked to multiple health problems and the development of different seating arrangements is another key factor in modern law office design.
To be healthier and more productive, employees often “get up, stand up” by using the adjustable height tables and computer stands now available from many commercial furniture manufacturers.
The private office is not dead and for many, mainly in the older generation but by no means always, the need to have some privacy and this is not at a workstation or in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ office situation.
Workstations can be stress-inducing for those seeking concentration and quiet. Having adaptable workspace layout and full-height wall panels with appropriate acoustic control is another concept that is important.