Trend 1: Designing the modern law firm
If we ask you to picture a law firm, what do you see? Maybe you’d see wood-panelled
corridors peopled by suit and pencil skirt-clad staff. Or large separate offices for senior staff members, complete with glass top desk and priceless art adorning the walls. Perhaps you’d imagine the coveted corner-office-view.
And maybe you wouldn’t be too far wrong. Traditional law firm workplace design was driven by three key objectives:
Global law firm design trends
Modern law firms are now considering different ways of working, which in turn are influencing their workplace design.
Major global trends impacting on law firms are:
1. Leaner business models: helping law firms save costs and become more efficient.
2. Legal teams are replacing individual stars.
3. A greater appreciation and need for work-life balance.
4. No boundaries: as borderless knowledge economies are growing.
5. Viewing the workplace as a tool for engagement, recruitment, brand
recognition and cost savings.
6. The office vs open plan: considering the benefits of both types of working, from
status and concentrative work to flexibility and connectivity.
What’s behind the change
There’s not one single driving force behind this shift in workplace design thinking. Instead, there are multiple factors at play:
New technology, which allows greater mobility and accessibility than ever
• Virtualisation, which means work doesn’t always need to take place within a
formal workplace setting.
• An increasing multigenerational and multicultural workforce with differing
• Globalisation, which can lead to outsourcing and mergers.
• Increased consumer choice and their demand for greater transparency and
Traditionally, lawyers have conducted a large proportion of their work on an individual, rather than collaborative, basis. As more recent (and future) lawyers join the workforce, their workplace needs and wants are changing. They’re more likely to look for flexibility and choice in their working arrangements.
They’re also more aware of technology and enjoy a more informal working environment. As a result
“More law firms are embracing progressive ideas in office design and building work
environments that reflect the evolving priorities of a rapidly changing legal profession.
Law offices will never – and should never – be like the super-informal workplaces that the dot-com boom has left as a legacy for some industries.” – RTKL – ‘IdeaLab, Vol 3,
Issue 3, ‘Beyond the corner office’.
New Zealand’s new-look law firm workplace design
Increasingly we’re seeing New Zealand law firms that are boutique and breakaway. They tend to be well-funded, with well-defined target markets.
They’re brand and design aware, client social – and excited about exploring new design. Here are four ways we’re seeing law firm workplace design change:
Favouring Hybrid Work Spaces
Rather than separate, closed-off offices for seniors, work enclaves are used to create the sense of privacy and quiet space needed for concentrative work. Paying a nod to the hierarchy of old and denoting the difference in seniority, junior and support staff work in a more open plan style.
Meeting spaces are no longer confined to stiff and bland meeting rooms. Instead, more
flexible alternatives are offered, such as bar leaners or booth seating for example.
Workplace design focuses on café spaces as central and integral to the workplace. Flexible spaces, they encourage cross-team collaboration, informal meetings and a place for staff to relax. Private meeting spaces are still incorporated to meet the needs of client confidentiality.
Reception areas are more informal than previously seen. File rooms and libraries are smaller as offices move towards becoming paperless
Incorporating small cellular offices
The realities of working life in a law firm means open plan design can be harder to achieve (but not impossible – full open plan is not uncommon). Now small cellular offices are created.
At only 9-12m2, they’re very open yet still provide for privacy and concentration. Modular loose furniture enhances the flexibility of the offices.
Catering for a multigenerational workforce
Although designing for the younger tech-savvy, flexible-favouring generation is very topical,
the reality in a law firm is that the experienced fee earners are the decision makers. They
often want a more hybrid environment, and that’s influencing workplace design.
Paying attention to costs
As well as fee earners’ influence, a move to a hybrid environment can be cost driven. There’s a less hard fit-out, furniture is standardised and a gleaming ivory tower is no longer the design goal. Condensing teams and shedding space also drives cost efficiencies.
What isn’t changing
Although there’s a sense of changing workplace design for law firms, some things don’t
Reception areas are still common. Formal enclosed meeting spaces are still needed, as are research spaces and space for quiet and thinking. In-house client entertainment is still common.
Modern workplace design still needs to cater to these needs.
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