The trend toward high-quality, efficient office space has touched every facet of commercial real estate, and law firms are no exception. Unlike many corporate users who, because of COVID, view office space as an anachronism or burden to shed, law firms continue to invest heavily in spaces designed to attract and retain talent—a phenomenon well underway pre-pandemic. As a result, recent data shows the legal industry has higher office occupancy rates, averaging 76.2% versus 44.2% for other sectors.
According to Tiffany Winne, Executive Managing Director & Partner for Stream Realty Partners in Phoenix, “Though cognizant of cost structure, most major firms have seen their profits increase dramatically over the past few years. Many are willing to invest in compelling spaces that will attract and engage attorneys, recognizing the office as a hub for the engagement, mentoring, teaming, socializing, and workflow that makes up the fabric of the practice of law.”
Employee-focused, Thoughtful Design
Changes within law firms have percolated for the past two decades, as firms looked to tech companies and progressing corporate users for inspiration on space design. Their modern technology and amenities, along with a commitment to employee well-being, made conventional, hierarchal law offices feel obsolete. Increased concern surrounding attorney mental health helped fuel this transition as well.
Firms digitized their legal libraries and created more collaborative spaces. Outdoor spaces and mother’s rooms became a priority, along with wellness certifications to set the standard for natural light, air quality, and amenities. Fewer client visits during and after COVID accelerated this trend, shifting focus from a “client-facing space” to one that is “talent-centric.”
While many of these changes did reduce the square footage needed per attorney, downsizing wasn’t necessarily the intention but an added benefit.
“Law firms will continue to prioritize efficiency, just like all businesses,” according to Alex Durham, Senior Vice President of Stream in Austin. “However, compared to other industries, the legal services sector is not committed to efficiency at all costs. Instead, they are focused on designing thoughtful, wellness-oriented spaces conducive to mentorship and an employee-centric office experience. They view this as vital to recruiting and retaining top talent—positioning their firms for success.”
Selecting the Right Location
Though some firms are open to office space in up-and-coming, trendy neighborhoods, Class A office buildings in central business districts provide greater community access, making them the ideal location for most.
“It’s all about creating a supportive environment—one that enriches the employee and connects with the community,” said Winne. “Many businesses have fled urban cores as a result of COVID. In contrast, the legal sector generally remains committed to downtown areas. Law firms are helping fuel the ongoing recoveries of central business districts across the country.”
At Stream, we work to understand a firm’s needs fully, aligning all aspects of office space—the configuration, amenities, and location—with long-term objectives. Winne challenges firms considering their next steps to ask:
- How do we envision our office space?
- What purpose does it serve?
- What are we trying to accomplish with this significant expenditure?
Durham knows from experience that as law firms look to attract and retain a new generation of talent in the post-COVID era, they’re reimagining the function and mission of the workplace. Spaces that promote wellness, foster collaboration, and serve as a conduit for professional advancement are truly key.
Tiffany Winne is the Executive Managing Director & Partner of Stream Realty Partners’ Phoenix office. With more than 20 years of experience, Tiffany has completed in excess of $3.5 billion in national and international transactions across 40+ markets. She was recently published by Globe Law and Business in “Accelerating Trends in Law Firms.”
Alex Durham is the Senior Vice President of the tenant representation in Stream’s Austin office, aligning strategic, financial, cultural, and operational objectives for businesses across Austin.