MIAMI -- The law firm of the future likely will look different from the office aesthetics of today, according to one designer.
Doug Zucker, leader of professional services for design firm Gensler, has written about the changing face of law firms. Gensler’s “Redesign Law” project has spent years imagining the law firm of the future. Reducing size and increasing efficiency are key to the Gensler model, which focuses heavily on modern technology and sharing office spaces.
“For example, using a partner-sized office for several contact attorneys, associates or paralegals could allow temporary use of a multi-use space in a variety of ways,” Zucker wrote in the paper. “We have experimented with a universal-sized office, and this idea has received limited traction.”
Zucker also points out that the number of people firms employ is changing and reducing paralegal and secretarial ratios will reduce the need for larger office space. While trends like legal process outsourcing have an impact on these employment ratios, the driving force of the change is technology. Digitization, for instance, reduces the need for the large physical libraries law firms have housed. The digital access of information is both easier and takes less space and time for legal assistants to find.
“Taken to the extreme, the impact will be to turn the typical pyramid organization with lots of young associates or contract lawyers at the bottom into more of a diamond shape with fewer people at the top and bottom, and a very flat organization in the middle,” Zucker wrote.
All these solutions to reduce space help law firms combat the rise in leasing prices for the locations they prefer. In Miami, rents can be as high as $55,000 per lawyer and this has caused the average office size to drop from the traditional norm of approximately 1,000 square feet to closer to 700, with an ultimate goal of 500 square feet according to leasing firm Jones Lang LaSalle.
“A lot of firms pay a lot of money to be in very high priced buildings, which they believe will impress their clients,” Katherine Niefeld, a spokesperson for Miami-area firm AXS, told the Florida Record. “However, it drives up their costs significantly, and they have to pass those costs through to their clients in terms of higher fees or reduce their own profits. Those firms are trying to reduce the space used by lawyers in those high rent buildings.”
AXS isn't changing the image of law firms in the same way as other firms, but it is changing the image, and dramatically. Rather than reducing space and moving to trophy buildings in the city’s center, AXS has moved to the art district Wynwood and opened a spacious office filled with murals and energy. Neifeld said AXS took much more space than it needed to, rather than reducing space per lawyer.
“We wanted to avoid that scene altogether and move into an office that was not outrageously priced and yet was in an exciting neighborhood that, we believe, clients will enjoy visiting,” said Neifeld. “Our office will double as work and entertainment space, with a lounge, bar and outdoor rooftop area.”
AXS plans to rent out some of its space to its clients, as well, and hopes the space and environment will allow its employees and clients both to enjoy a unique work/life experience.