Category Archives: Design Strategy

Generational Design Shapes Future Law Firm Office Space

Commentary by David Chason, Daily Business Review

It’s no secret that multigenerational issues are permeating the legal landscape at warp speed, calling attention to critical factors that impact the future of law firm cultures and brands. Yet, recruitment, retention and succession planning, as some fundamental examples, are not just exclusive to the business of law. They are permeating into law firm office design, transforming how interior spaces are harmonizing with age diversity and the evolution of each generation’s needs and desires in the modern workplace.

Planning for change, often a dreaded word, is a core characteristic of law firm design today. This means that office space must remain agile. A constant rebalance of “law and order” as it pertains to interior spaces must be available to appeal to the current workforce, from baby boomers to millennials, while preparing for tomorrow.

There is no doubt that real estate is a significant investment for law firms. This requires careful design considerations and strategy to ensure spaces are best utilized for client interface, collaboration and the accommodation of growth. But more importantly, keeping law firm employees satisfied in their daily environment, especially for those spending countless waking hours in the office, needs to be a relevant goal in interior design presentation.

Whether on the brink of retirement or passing the bar exam, attorneys in any stage of their careers have, likely, a clear-defined definition of the optimal workspace. To allow for law firms and its professionals to thrive, partners should be open minded to re-imagining the type of interior layouts required for this multi-generational audience.

The first steps proven to be effective to maintain relevancy in designing for all ages is to appoint a “redesign committee” of firm attorneys committed to serving as a representative of their respective age groups. These committees ignite much-needed conversations about office space improvements. They also reveal interesting changes that are impacting the legal profession, such as the willingness to establish open spaces and collaborative areas for employees to gather informally.

Each age group of attorneys has demonstrated a trend toward patterns that appeal to their generation.

Baby Boomers

The breakdown of specific design requests shows that baby boomers still function in a hierarchal structure in law firm office space. That means ranking of seniority often exists, affording seasoned firm members the traditional “corner office” with views and drywall. Their careers were established before the open workspace floor plans, thus, they still seek calm and private spaces to work, such as closed offices and small rooms that function separately from other team members. Libraries that house printed books and magazines for industry resources are utilized, although a clear majority of attorneys are integrating forms of technology into daily activity to foster better communication. Custom millwork, paneling, leather and integration of traditional furnishings are prevalent, even if mixed with contemporary designs found through an entire law office.

Generation X

Law firms that are embracing modern design and style support a more communal and inclusive work environment. Design features such as glass-fronted offices and conference rooms inspire natural light to enter once darker workspaces. For Gen X, the addition of these elements can also help illicit mentoring of associates and incite communication of firm goals. Private offices are now more welcoming with the use of flexible furniture and seating areas that often look similar to a home living room. Hospitality is a key cornerstone to making a multigenerational team feel at ease in this type of environment. Offices then have multiple uses, to hold meetings or invite clients in a more personalized setting. With this generation being more open to change, the frequented engagement in conference calls also provokes a desire for phone booths and moveable walls. Their mentality focuses both on pleasing the former age group and those younger.

Gen Y/Millennials

Gen Y or millennials choose collaborative spaces, where they can experience a sense of freedom while being a part of the firm. In fact, they are the least bit concerned about the traditional role of the office. Technology takes a dominant role within their space; it is important in every sense, from touchpad capabilities and ease of access to materials. Bolder and brighter colors, carpeting, wall coverings and textures are preferred, with a splash of nature incorporated. Coffee, food pantries available at their discretion and break areas provide more laid-back meeting locations and spaces where work can be done via laptop or tablet. They think “out of the box” and custom environments make law firm offices stand apart in their design.

The Future

Many attorneys seek to remain nimble to technology and the changing scope of office space design. It is important to share a common perspective that collective efforts are needed from all age groups to impact the bottom-line.

Each law firm has a distinctive identify and its own set of needs. When implementing design changes, the process should start with an understanding of how a firm operates for the space design to completely aligned with its identity. When a design plan works for a law office, it generates a true organizational advantage. It is a powerful tool to reinforce the brand and culture.

Even with forward movement taking place, law office space allocation indicates that 60 percent of interior design is still comprised of traditional meeting rooms and offices. Given the confidential nature of legal work, there will always be limitations to how far firms can go to alter the composition of space. And, the “private” office is more likely to remain a necessity for some lawyers.

Yet, integration of technology will be complemented by significantly smaller dimensions in real estate, operations that foster collaboration, and flexible layouts. Creating more relaxed areas that encourage impromptu meetings, and space for smaller work groups and virtual gatherings is essential. Strategy and design behind collaborative areas is critical for any successful law firm.

To seamlessly move into the law office of tomorrow, the key is to create a flexible environment that is forward thinking, so the legal workplace can adapt and support the needs for the firm of the future.