Olswang to move to open plan and agile working by 2017

Olswang will move to full open plan in its London headquarters and offer agile working for all staff by March 2017, The Lawyer can reveal.

The firm is in the process of refitting its 90 High Holborn offices “to better utilise its office space”, a spokesperson told The Lawyer.

The refurbishment will include “moving to an open plan seating arrangement to cultivate a more agile, flexible working environment”. The major changes will take effect in a series of phases, finalised by this time next year.

Chief executive Paul Stevens has been pushing for a move to agile working across the firm since he was elected last year.

Olswang has been laying the foundations for a move to agile working since the end of 2015, upgrading its IT systems and staff smartphones over the last few months so lawyers can access documents via the cloud.

The firm has mooted moving to open plan a number of times over the last decade, first trialling open plan for its real estate and corporate departments in 2006, though the changes were eventually scrapped.

It launched a new trial of open plan for the real estate team last April. A spokesperson said the group has “become passionate advocates of this collaborative way of working” since then.

Agile working has become increasingly popular among law firms in the last few years, most recently adopted by Clifford Chance in London and Mishcon de Reya, which revealed in 2014 partners would be able to take “unlimited holidays”.

Freshfields is also understood to be considering the new way of working ahead of a consultation on plans for its London offices when its leases expire in 2021.

Olswang has seen a raft of major changes in the last 18 months, precipitated by a series of management-level exits including chief executive David Stewart in October 2014 and the successive departures of most of his management team.

Head of strategic development Nigel Rea left to join Lexis Nexis, business development and marketing director Michelle Elstein exited for Morrison & Foerster, general counsel Simon Callendar joined Addleshaw Goddard and veteran HR director Ffion Griffith left for a non-legal position.

Now Stevens is understood to be on the hunt for a merger, with news emerging earlier this year the possibility of a tie-up had been discussed at the January partner conference. Bird & Bird, Simmons & Simmons and an unnamed US firm were understood to have been approached about a combination.