Womble Bond Dickinson sees savings opportunity in flexible work, aims to cut office space by up to 50%
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Womble Bond Dickinson aims to reduce square footage for U.S. offices by up 50% as lawyers and staff members spend more time working from home.
Law.com spoke with Womble’s United States CEO Betty Temple about the law firm’s plans. Womble will cut space as leases for its 18 U.S offices come up for renewal, although not all of the offices will cut space by half.
Womble will need less office space because of a smaller head count and flexible work arrangements that allow staff members and lawyers to work from home. Head count has shrunk partly because of equity partner retirements and partly because of a reduction in lawyers working at its ancillary services arm.
Equity partner retirements aren’t over, she said. “We have the baby-boomer bulge that a lot of firms have.”
Womble intends to cut space for individual offices while expanding collaborative space. The idea is to use the office to work with colleagues and meet with clients, but not as a full-time work environment.
“We want an office that is energetic,” Temple told Law.com. “With the flexibility we’re going to give our talent, we don’t want people to come into a bunch of empty offices because of working from home.”
The law firm has already exercised a lease option to scrap a full floor of offices and conference rooms at its Winston-Salem headquarters. And in Washington, D.C., where Womble’s lease was ending, the firm cut its office space from a full floor to a half floor.
Associates will have fewer exterior offices with windows because of the size cut in D.C., but Temple thinks it will be acceptable to lawyers who value working at home. Some associates who come in just a few days a week may be working in office space that rotates among lawyers, while those who spend more time in the workplace may get a dedicated office.
Law firms don’t need “near the amount of physical space” they currently lease, Temple told Law.com. Paying personnel is the highest expense for a law firm, and office space is usually the second-highest, she said. A changed mindset can result in substantial savings, she said.
“This pandemic has completely changed the way we look at law firms’ office space forever,” Temple told Law.com.