The lawyer’s office and the importance of design

Office design and ways of working evolve continuously and it can be a full time job keeping pace with new ways to inspire, motivate and retain staff. There is however always room for improvement and being aware of the key trends can help you make decisions that will benefit you. Here we outline some of the current ideas that might help.

First, some background. Over the last century, we have seen office design progress through competing demands; cellular working, open plan, the need for privacy and quiet rooms, and the increasing popularity of collaboration and social spaces. This evolution has largely taken place against a backdrop of a difficult market and rapidly changing economy, which in turn has brought an efficiency drive and need to cut costs. Add to this the diverse nature of the sector and there’s no denying that law firms have complex and multiple needs.

Geoff Andrew

Spurred on by technological advances, the workplace has undergone its own revolution – just look at the new offices of firms like Google. That said, each sector of industry needs to respond appropriately. So here are a few trends that the legal sector now embraces fully or is beginning to grow accustomed to.

The legal sector now puts more emphasis than ever on staff attraction and retention – you will have noticed how the large firms have offices that better resemble hotels these days. More and more services are being housed within a traditional office floorplate and socialising has become key to the culture of many offices.

Closely linked to this is corporate personality, which has become increasingly important. From the minute you enter the premises, your first impression must exactly mirror the values and culture of the firm. It needs to be explicit while at the same time understated and professional. It must ‘speak’ to staff and encourage a certain behaviour befitting the firm, while creating an exceptional customer experience associated with that company. This means client suites that are extravagant and exude quality, and also incorporate the latest technology including RFID and remote meeting room booking etc.

On the staff floors, the drive towards collaboration is still balanced by the need for privacy and peace, leading to zones in many offices which require different attitudes and behaviours. We call this task-based working – it’s intuitive and provides the variety of spaces staff both need and want.

Efficiency drives now also mean law firms embrace hot desking as well as flexible and everywhere working. This agility is relatively new for the sector which has been so used to staff being at their own desk all day.

So these are just a few trends and as you’ve read this you may have nodded or shaken your head – this is a good start to identifying which will work best for you and enable you to get the most from your team. The key is understanding how your staff and teams work. With technology today you can literally be anywhere in the world and still have the office at your fingertips. Wasting space on cellular offices when someone is consistently out and about or in meetings will cost you space and money. Instead, you may consider flexible working spaces.

Can the majority of the team work in open plan? For many law firms, this can prove difficult; however for important discussions staff could use designated quiet rooms, touchdown spaces and case rooms. Kennedy’s have done exactly this – fee earners are in their own open plan area communicating with support staff via their own hi-tech IT systems. They can even create an office within the open plan environment or break down some barriers to improve communication and collaboration by simply taking down walls, if required.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to go to extremes in your office to prove you are modern, fresh and innovative. A well thought out breakout space with areas for teams to socialise, café style teapoints and informal meeting areas can provide just the right balance of ‘homely’ feel without compromising your brand in the face of clients.

To be the best in class you need functional and modern office design and, a quality environment that improves corporate culture and productivity. If your staff feel comfortable at work their work ethic improves, and the inevitable late hours in the office aren’t as daunting when you are liberated by good design. Your staff and premises are often the two most expensive overheads, but they can complement and benefit each other, positively contributing to your bottom line.