Law Firm Office Design - Current and Future Trends
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/ Law Firm Office Design: Future-Ready Legal Workspaces

Law Firm Office Design: Future-Ready Legal Workspaces

Dr. Greg Dooley - Design and Build Specialist

Dr Greg Dooley

Digital Marketing Manager

Content Specialist in Office Design & Build

Redefining Office Design in the Legal Sector

A law firm office design, fit out, or refurbishment can enhance staff retention and well-being while future-proofing the long-term leases of legal workspaces, which can be as long as 10-15 years. In our design and fit-out projects for law firms like Squire Patton Boggs and Latham & Watkins, we’ve noticed that there’s a pronounced emphasis on infusing brand identity into the office design. Spaces aren’t just functional; they’re a reflection of the firm’s ethos, values, and legacy.

This article provides a deep dive into office design and fit out of law firms: from collaborative zones and the value of transparency to the importance of inclusivity and the imperative of staying ahead in an increasingly digital workplace. The next few paragraphs cover it all.

office design & build

Office Design and Fit Out Specialists

For over 20 years, our talented team have transformed workspaces across London and internationally with bespoke design & build and office furniture (FF&E) solutions. Get in touch with us today and let's start a project that will take your firm to new horizons.

Law firm office design and fit out

How Can Office Design Help to Balance Different Styles of Working?

The tug-of-war between traditional office mandates and the desire for increased flexibility is at the forefront of office design considerations. Joe Patrice, senior editor of “Above the Law” argues in a rather compelling analysis that Biglaw firms often mistakenly believe they have the leverage to enforce hard-line in-office work mandates, underestimating the desire of lawyers for a more flexible work environment.

Different Approaches to Work Flexibility

Law firms have taken different stances on the return to the office following the pandemic. Some believe that the job market allows them to mandate strict in-office work policies.  For example, the recent decision by Weil, Gotshal & Manges’s London office, in alignment with its U.S. base, mandates attorneys to be present in the office for at least four days a week. They’ve justified this by citing the benefits of regular in-person work, such as improved training, better mentorship, morale enhancement, and accelerated professional development. Firms like Ropes & Gray and Vinson & Elkins have also instituted similar four-day in-office policies in recent months.

Yet, while these U.S.-based firms are seemingly leaning into this “market leverage”, their U.K. counterparts tell a different story. Many U.K. firms have yet to implement stringent in-office requirements. In fact, U.S. law firms like Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson have offered their London-based lawyers the choice to work from home for an entire month. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, show particular interest in the hybrid working debate with the line “Talent Mandatory. Office Optional”. As John Quinn Notes:

I personally think there’s no turning back to a situation where everybody is expected to be in the office. […] On the one hand, we’re embracing work from anywhere and trying to make that useful and rewarding in its own way. But we recognise there are people who want to get back in the office – and how do we maximise that experience as well? That’s also going to probably include some redesign of office space. The office should be for situations where people congregate and get together, and we have to think about designing office spaces in ways that promote that.

To contextualise this, it’s pivotal to recognise the broader implications. While certain firms are hedging their bets on the tangible benefits of regular office attendance, they simultaneously tread the fine line of potentially estranging talent that cherishes work flexibility and a balanced life. In a domain where retaining and attracting top-tier talent is the sine qua non, such decisions could be fraught with unintended repercussions.

Reflecting on this, our article on hybrid office design has become ever-pertinent. It highlights that workplaces adopting a hybrid model early on are most likely to flourish. With data revealing that 85% of UK working individuals and 52% of US workers prefer a blend of home and office work, the writing is on the wall. Hybrid working is not a fleeting trend but rather an enduring evolution, reshaping the very fabric of traditional office culture. In this landscape, the astute firms will be those that calibrate their strategies to resonate with these shifting paradigms, seamlessly integrating the strengths of both in-office and remote work.

How Office Design Can Help Law Firms

The table below outlines the critical factors involved in modern law firm office design, along with descriptions and examples on how to achieve them. This table is a useful guide to creating a conducive, functional, and aesthetically appealing workspace that aligns with the firm’s values and meets the demands of modern legal practice.

Office Design SolutionHow to Achieve it
TransparencyEmphasises open-door offices, and glass partitions to foster a culture of openness. Open layout with glass partitions allowing visibility between junior staff and leadership.
Learning Spaces for Growth Spaces for workshops, seminars, and training to foster continuous professional growth. Internal library, tech-enabled conference room for training sessions.
Technology Adoption of technology for hybrid work models, enhancing in-person interactions. Presence technology to inform employees of colleagues’ in-office status.
Space Utilisation Optimising space and promoting flexibility to reduce costs on unused real estate. Hoteling office space, shared only in emergencies.
Inclusivity and De-hierarchisation Designing for equal access to facilities and transforming traditional power structures. Equal access to natural light, multigender facilities, transforming corner offices into shared areas.
Client Experience and First Impressions Design elements in client-facing areas shape perceptions and ensure comfort and privacy. Modern, organised reception, private nooks, digital check-in kiosks.
Space Utilisation & Collaboration Designing spaces for scalability, global connectivity, and high-security private areas. Reconfigurable furniture and partitions, advanced soundproofing, and office pods.

Insights from Workplace Studies

The landscape of the modern workplace is changing, and even traditional spaces like law firms are not exempt. Microsoft’s comprehensive study on employee motivation, and Mapticiain’s 2023 Maptician Attorney Engagement Survey, offer pivotal insights that can be translated into the design and ethos of law firms. The findings from these studies resonate within the context of legal office spaces in the following ways:

  1. Redefining Collaboration Spaces: Law firms often have a reputation for compartmentalised office layouts. However, with Microsoft’s revelation that 74% of employees are more inclined to come to the office when they know their colleagues will be there, there’s a pressing need to create collaborative spaces. Think in addition to office booths, private offices and pods the need for communal workspaces, meeting lounges, and brainstorming pods that encourage attorneys and staff to collaborate and connect.
  2. Integrating Social Corners: It’s not just about work; it’s also about the bonds created over informal chats and shared coffee breaks. Given the importance of rebuilding team bonds, highlighted by 85% of study respondents, law firms should consider integrating more casual spaces – perhaps a well-appointed break room or a rooftop lounge – to foster these essential interpersonal connections.
  3. Flexible Work Stations: Law firms must shed their traditional rigidity and embrace the ethos of flexibility. With 73% of employees emphasising the importance of having compelling reasons to come to the office, flexible working stations that cater to various tasks, from deep work to client meetings, become crucial. This could include stand-up desks, soundproofed booths, or even outdoor working spaces.
  4. Transparency in Design and Leadership: Legal workplaces can sometimes feel labyrinthine and closed-off. However, with 85% of respondents valuing authenticity in leadership, a design that emphasises transparency can be symbolic. Consider open-door offices, glass partitions, and spaces that allow junior employees to feel more connected to the firm’s leadership, thereby fostering a culture of openness.
  5. Learning Spaces for Growth: Law is a continually evolving field, and as Microsoft’s study indicated, 76% of employees would stay longer in firms that prioritise learning and development. This can be translated into office design by creating dedicated spaces for workshops, seminars, and training. An internal library or a tech-enabled conference room could be effective tools to foster continuous professional growth.
  6. The Technology Gap: While the adoption of hybrid work models has been widespread, only around 40% of firms have embraced supporting technology. Many are still reliant on traditional tools like Microsoft Outlook, which falls short of hybrid work-specific functionalities. According to the 2023 Maptician Attorney Engagement Survey, there is a significant opportunity in “presence technology” which informs employees of their colleagues’ in-office status, promoting in-person interactions. Data from the survey reveals that 84% of employees would be more inclined to work from the office if they could socialise with co-workers. However, despite its benefits, a massive 94% of firms do not comply with Return to Office (RTO) policies, leading to a concerning average space utilisation rate of just 47.15%.
  7. Space Utilisation and Cost Implications: The real estate decisions of law firms are also under the scanner. With law firm space utilisation hovering around a mere 50%, a staggering $74,475,561.6 (£60 million) per month goes to waste on unused real estate according to data from Maptician (hoteling software for hybrid working). This statistic underscores the potential for firms to innovate, optimising space while promoting flexibility. Options like hoteling office space, which is shared only in emergencies, can help cut back on space and costs.
Monitor Arms and Ergonomics

Inclusivity and De-hierarchisation

The design of a law firm’s office is much more than just an aesthetic choice; it’s an embodiment of the firm’s brand, values, and operational needs. Inclusivity and de-hierarchisation are becoming increasingly important and shaping the design of the workplace. Here are a few of the ways that’s happening:

  • Natural Light Access for All: Equal access to natural light not only brings about health benefits, such as improved mood and productivity but also breaks down traditional barriers. By ensuring every employee, regardless of rank or role, has access to natural lighting, companies underscore the importance of every team member.
  • Prayer Rooms for Diverse Faiths: Respecting and accommodating the diverse religious backgrounds of employees is essential in a globalised world. Incorporating dedicated prayer rooms is a testament to an organisation’s commitment to inclusivity. Such spaces allow individuals to observe their religious practices without feeling marginalised, fostering a culture of respect and unity.
  • Multigender Facilities: The introduction of multigender toilets and changing areas is more than just a modern architectural trend; it’s a move towards acknowledging and validating the diverse gender identities that exist within the workforce. This approach breaks away from traditional binary norms, ensuring that every individual feels seen, valued, and accommodated.
  • Transforming Corner Offices: Historically, the coveted corner office was a symbol of seniority and power, often creating a palpable divide between higher-ups and the rest of the staff. However, the transformation of these spaces into shared areas emphasises collaborative efforts over hierarchical structures. Such a move democratises space, creating an environment where knowledge sharing, teamwork, and cross-departmental collaboration are promoted over rank and status.

How Can Law Firms Improve Client Experience and First Impressions?

Client experience starts the moment they step into the office. The design and fit-out, especially in client-facing areas, play a significant role in shaping their perceptions and determining how they feel about the law firm. Law firms looking to fit out and refurbish their offices need to consider the following things:

  • The Power of First Impressions: first impressions last whether it’s a visiting client or a new starter. If they walk into your office and find it cluttered, outdated, or disorganised, they might question your firm’s professionalism and capability. On the contrary, a modern, organised, and inviting reception can instantly communicate efficiency, and attention to detail.
  • Reception Areas as Brand Ambassadors: The reception area acts as a physical embodiment of the firm’s brand. Whether it’s the choice of furniture, the lighting, the artwork, or even the magazines on the table – every element should convey the firm’s ethos, culture, and commitment to excellence.
  • Client Comfort and Amenities: Ensuring that clients are comfortable while they wait can convey care and attention. Providing amenities like refreshments, a comfortable seating area, free Wi-Fi, and updated reading materials can enhance the client’s overall experience.
  • Privacy Considerations: Law firms often deal with sensitive information. Even in reception areas, clients should feel that their confidentiality is maintained. This could be achieved by having private nooks or areas where clients can sit without being overheard, or even by incorporating soundproofing elements in the design.
  • Wayfinding and Accessibility: A client’s experience isn’t just about the aesthetics; it’s about functionality too. Clear signage, easily accessible areas, and intuitive design that guides clients seamlessly through the office can enhance their experience.
  • Incorporating Technology: Modern law firm designs often incorporate technology in client areas. This could be in the form of digital check-in kiosks (see our work for DTRE as an example), interactive displays showcasing the firm’s achievements, or even screens that provide clients with updates about their appointment status.
Hybrid Office Design

What Considerations Are Needed for Space Utilisation & Collaboration?

Law firms are faced with numerous challenges when it comes to selecting, designing and optimising workspaces. The list below captures a few things that you might want to consider. Of course, each space is different so for a more hands-on approach we suggest speaking to our professional team of office designers and project managers who can help you flesh out the details.

  1. Allow for Scalablility in your Workspace: when reviewing spaces consider how they can be designed to scale up or down. Opt for furniture and partitions that can be reconfigured as teams grow, shrink, or change.
  2. Review Global Connectivity: Meeting rooms should be optimised for international conference calls, incorporating state-of-the-art video conferencing systems, translation services, and time zone displays.
  3. Consider High-Security Private Areas: With sensitive global cases, secure spaces are paramount. It’s worth investing in advanced soundproofing, office pods, meeting booths, signal-blocking areas, and in some cases biometric access for rooms meant for top confidentiality.
  4. Create a Workplace for a Unified Digital Experience: As attorneys work across multiple global offices, transitioning between work and home, ensuring a consistent digital experience is paramount. Implement unified IT systems, standardised software tools, and global access to digital resources. We can support you with a range of office tech from tech-enhanced office pods and booths to meeting booking systems.
  5. Consider Wellness and Culture Zones: Recognise the diverse cultures and backgrounds of a global team. Create spaces that celebrate this diversity, along with wellness areas that cater to different regional relaxation practices.
  6. Sustainability & Global Responsibility:  Elevate your workspace with design elements that underscore sustainability, such as incorporating sustainability programmes (e.g. BREEAM and LEED) and ESG goals. It’s best to start early and consider implementing your sustainability right at the beginning of your office fit out – as we did for DTRE in applying to achieve their BREEAM accreditation.
  7. Space for Innovations Labs: Dedicate spaces for innovation, where teams can experiment with new legal tech tools, and research methodologies, or brainstorm disruptive solutions.
  8. Training & Development Hubs: The next five years will witness rapid advancements in legal tech. It’s worth integrating this into your design with dedicated spaces equipped with the latest tools and tech for continuous training and development.
  9. Cultural & Artistic Touchpoints: Maintain a global yet local approach. Incorporating art and design elements from various regions where the firm operates, ensures employees and clients feel a connection to the global brand and also supports general wellbeing in the workplace.
  10. Feedback-Driven Evolution: With the growing use of smart office tech, analytics and feedback tools can continually gauge space utilisation and employee satisfaction. This data-driven approach can help you to make iterative improvements to your office space.
Office Furniture for London Client

Thoughts on the Likely Future of Office Design in the Legal Sector in the Age of Generative AI

Generative AI has gained immense traction publically and with that, it’s created numerous legal and regulatory challenges, especially in areas of data regulation, intellectual property, and competitive markets. With concerns ranging from potential copyright infringements to privacy issues, regulatory bodies globally are racing to catch up. Innovative law firms like Linklaters have embraced the opportunity and integrated AI into their services – their article “Riding the Wave of Generative AI” makes compelling reading.

So what does AI mean for office design? Well in the next 5-10  years, we would wager that the legal sector is poised for a rapid transformation unlike any period before, primarily driven by the capabilities and challenges of generative AI and advanced computing. For law firms, this isn’t just about changing practices or adopting software. It demands a holistic re-evaluation and redesign of the very fabric of the workplace. Here are some of the things that could come into play:

  1. The Data-Centric Office: At the heart of AI’s capabilities is data. Given the heightened scrutiny around data collection and use, future law offices will need to prioritise robust, secure, and compliant data storage solutions. We can envision dedicated data hubs within firms, fortified by state-of-the-art security measures. These hubs would not only be digital repositories but also collaborative spaces where legal professionals, data scientists, and AI specialists converge to mine insights and craft strategies.
  2. Collaborative AI-Human Zones: With AI playing a critical role in research, analytics, and predictive modelling, law offices will need designated spaces that foster human-AI collaboration. These zones, equipped with interactive displays, virtual reality interfaces, and real-time analytics dashboards, would be the nerve centres where lawyers harness AI’s prowess to expedite case reviews, conduct deep dives into legal precedents, and strategise.
  3. Learning & Adaptation Areas: Considering the rapid pace of AI and the consequent regulatory changes, there will be a pressing need for continuous learning. Modern law offices might house state-of-the-art training rooms, hosting regular workshops on the latest AI tools, techniques, and relevant legal frameworks. Think of them as classrooms of the future, seamlessly blending traditional legal knowledge with cutting-edge tech insights.
  4. Flexible Office Designs for Evolving Needs: Given the dynamic nature of AI’s development and its legal implications, law offices would benefit from modular designs. Spaces that can be easily reconfigured would allow firms to adapt quickly to new technologies or regulatory demands, ensuring they remain agile and ahead of the curve.
  5. Offices Providing AR/VR Engagement: With generative AI’s influence extending to areas like the gaming industry and the metaverse, law firms might have dedicated virtual office space for AR/VR. Lawyers could consult, negotiate, and even represent clients in AI-generated environments, demanding a blend of the physical and the virtual in-office designs.
  6. Ethical and Regulatory Compliance Centers: Lastly, with AI ushering in complex ethical dilemmas and regulatory challenges, law firms may host specialised departments or centres focusing solely on AI ethics and compliance. These departments would serve as the firm’s conscience and guidepost, ensuring that while they harness AI’s potential, they also remain firmly grounded in ethical and legal principles.
Mirastar office design
Design and Build of Black Bespoke Teapoint at Rolls-Royce Partners Finance in London

They passed a tough tender process and were chosen against strong opposition. We couldn’t have been happier with them. They made what could have been a very stressful time-pressured project a complete joy! K2 were friendly, professional, and helpful, going above and beyond at every turn and continuing to offer aftercare or advice to this day.

Ben Hoar, Operations Director

Rolls-Royce & Partners Finance

office design & build

Speak to Our Team of Office Design and Fit Out Specialists

For over 20 years, K2 Space has been at the forefront of law firm office design in London, skilfully merging brand ethos with contemporary aesthetics. Our talented team of innovators and visionaries are more than just designers; they're partners in transforming workspaces. From the initial consultation to aftercare, we ensure an exceptional journey for your office, integrating our holistic services from design & build to furnishing. Moreover, in today's modern workspace, we emphasise sustainability. With our designs and choices, your firm can not only look good but also prioritise environmentally conscious solutions. Visit us at our Barnsbury Square studio or connect online, and let's embark on a journey to redefine your professional space.

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