By Misa Han Originally published by Commercial Real Estate on 28 October 2016.

Lawyers are losing workspace at the rate of roughly one square metre a year, as they are released to roam beyond their offices into co-working spaces and what architects tout as “five-star” in-house hospitality venues.

The latest research paper on the legal workplace by architecture firm Bates Smart found on average lawyers are being allocated a smaller space of about 16 square metres per person, compared with 24 square metres in 2007.

That space is predicted to fall to 12 square metres per person by 2020, while some firms will experiment with 10 square metres.

Firms are squeezing lawyers into smaller areas as they seek to cut rent and use space as efficiently as possible, given rent often represents the highest cost to a law firm after lawyer salaries, the report says.

“We won’t have partners occupying the corner office and staying there for 20 years. That long-term ownership of a desk is probably a way of the past,” Bates Smart architect Kellie Payne said.

The report, which analyses close to 30 big legal fitouts in the past five years, found that only 35 per cent of legal staff now have an office compared with 75 per cent in 2007. By 2020 Bates Smart predicts 90 per cent of legal staff will have left offices for open-plan. But lawyers need not fear hot desking.

“I would never have hot desking on the cards for law firms because they’re not like a sales team who are out of the office for long periods of time. They need to find each other and work together,” Ms Payne said.

New fitouts

The spend on new fitouts is costing between $1,800 and $6,000 a square metre, according to Bates Smart, which has worked with big law firms, including Clayton Utz, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Allens Linklaters, Dibbs Barker and Arnold Bloch Leibler.

As mobility becomes more important lawyers are likely to desk hop more frequently, Ms Payne said.

Maddocks and Sparke Helmore are among firms embracing cafe-style offices; numerous others, including Gilbert + Tobin, Minter Ellison and Corrs Chambers Westgarth have embraced open-plan offices.

“We’re moving away from the model where everyone spends 100 per cent of their time in their office or workstation,” said Maddocks property partner Guy O’Connor, who sat on the firm’s premises committee for its Bates Smart-designed office in Melbourne.

“We were responding to the fact the way lawyers work has changed in recent times. There is a greater need for flexibility and mobility,” he said.

Maddocks offices roaming lawyers
The Maddocks law offices in the Melbourne CBD. Photo: Darrian Traynor
We were responding to the fact the way lawyers work has changed in recent times. There is a greater need for flexibility and mobility

'Signature space'

The office, designed to encourage collaboration, has a two-storey wintergarden, indoor staff area and an internal cafe where clients and staff can work and socialise. All staff now work on laptops rather than desktops.

Partners had an option of staying in an office or working in an open-plan space. One decided to work in an open-plan space because she did not want to create boundaries with her team. A month later she said she would never go back to an office.

The research found law firms now dedicate 20 per cent of their total office for client and employee shared space, in the form of meeting rooms or in-house hospitality venues.

Ms Payne said over the past four years law firms had focused on a broader range of in-house hospitality offerings.

“Firms are looking for signature space … they’re looking to recreate the five-star restaurant experience,” Ms Payne said.

Ms Payne said a number of law firms now had a full commercial kitchen and hired chefs from five-star restaurants to create fine-dining menus for their clients and staff. One firm, for example, has hired a chef from lauded Sydney restaurant ARIA to do internal catering.

The article represents the views of the author only and not those of Dexus.

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