Law Firms Using More Communal Spaces, Smaller Offices for Leaders

No longer are office sizes based on seniority at Dentons, a Chicago law firm. Instead, the firm is shrinking its office sizes, and therefore its rent, by moving MP Mary Wilson to an office that’s 35 square feet smaller.

“It doesn’t make economic sense,” Wilson told Crain’s Chicago Business. Crain’s reported that Dentons is following a trend in office design that embraces shared spaces for legal teams to work together and smaller spaces for firm leaders. In fact, all lawyers are getting 165 square feet. Some estimates say Dentons’ rent could fall by nearly 30% under the new plan.

Seyfarth Shaw, McDermott Will & Emergy and DLA Piper, all with offices in Chicago, plan to move into smaller spaces in the next few years, Crain’s reported. Long leases “combined with lawyers’ attachment to palatial offices,” have kept law firms in a traditional office layouts. “But that’s finally changing as senior partners retire, nonlawyers enter firm management, clients increasingly resist high legal fees and technology continues to reduce the need for libraries, onsite file storage and armies of assistants,” Crain’s reported.

The trend to shrink private offices, or even eliminate them, is also being seen in accounting firms and CPA societies. (See: The Way We Work: Forward-Thinking Firms Giving Professionals)

The law firms that have completed the 10 largest lease deals in downtown Chicago since 2013 have shrunk their floor plans by an average of 18 percent, according to CBRE, a Los Angeles-based real estate services firm.

Crain’s says law firms use more space than other professional services. Between 2002 and 2004, law firms averaged about 11,000 square feet nationally, while accounting firms averaged 8,500, according to CoStar Group, a Washington, D.C., real estate data company.