September 28, 2021 - From the September, 2021 issue

Meghan Spinos on Vocon's Vision for the Law Office of the Future

Vocon is a national design firm focused on creating people-driven work environments, with headquarters in Cleveland and offices in New York and Los Angeles. Here, TPR offers a platform to the firm's principal and strategy director, Meghan Spinos, to share with readers how the pandemic has impacted law firms' commercial real estate needs. Acknowledging increasingly flexible and remote work options, Spinos elaborates on the amenities law offices are looking for as workers return to the office with a renewed appreciation for social interaction and opportunities for impromptu collaboration afforded by a traditional office space.


"So, law offices will remain to facilitate interactions, learning, mentoring, and the way in-person interactions help recharge co-workers batteries, though most lawyers won’t come back to the office 40 hours a week, even after the pandemic finally abates."—Meghan Spinos

Sharp increases in artificial intelligence and high-tech tool usage, fewer assigned desks and more shared work stations will continue transforming America’s law offices, post-pandemic. But physical offices will remain critical, with law firms planning to increase spending on making offices more attractive and less austere, including improving reception and meeting areas and creating new collaboration hubs and social areas.

Those are among the law office changes anticipated by Vocon, a leading national architecture, design, and workplace strategy firm. Vocon’s vision is based on consultations with the company’s coast-to-coast client roster, regular research, and the firm’s short new poll, “A Vision of the Future Law Office,” of over 300 law associates.

Nearly all of those surveyed would prefer to keep working remotely some portion of the week, and 40 percent want to come to the office just one or two days per week. Indeed, more adaptable schedules will remain the norm, with 57 percent of law firm employees saying they would sacrifice assigned seating for greater flexibility. 

Spending on technology also is sure to grow to allow law firms to engage remote work and to help find efficiencies – working cases with fewer personnel and making the best use of resources. Of course, some shrinkage of physical spaces will be inevitable, too. But worth noting law firms' per-lawyer space allotments were decreasing before Covid.

Prior to the pandemic, firms were striving to have about 600 square feet per attorney or less, according to a recent study by Cushman & Wakefield. Now, that target has commonly fallen to 400 square feet to 500 square feet per lawyer on average, a recent study by Cushman & Wakefield found.

That’s not to say that law offices are going away. Physical spaces will remain critical to keeping law firm employees connected and grounded, according to Vocon’s recent poll of legal associates. During remote work times, the law firm employees said they most missed “social interaction” (68 percent), “connection to company culture” (58 percent), and “impromptu collaboration” (48 percent), according to Vocon’s own polling. 

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So, law offices will remain to facilitate interactions, learning, mentoring, and the way in-person interactions help recharge co-workers batteries, though most lawyers won’t come back to the office 40 hours a week, even after the pandemic finally abates.

And Vocon anticipates some law firms will actually spend more on offices, creating more spaces for activities, increasing amenities and retrofitting offices for more flexible use, while still preserving offices dedicated to partners and associates.

The office space that remains won’t just be more visually pleasing, with new paint jobs and décor. Shared parts of the offices – lounges, cafeterias, conference rooms – also are sure to be upgraded and expanded by a number of law firms.

Are lawyers really slow to change? No real research exists to support that commonly held idea. But if perception is reality, the pandemic may yet help eradicate the stereotype.

Law offices increasingly use more cutting-edge technology and new approaches to preserve their essential offices. Hologram handshakes will never replace the real thing.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.