How should you rethink your office space in the future? Here are some ideas
Law firms’ use of office space was shrinking even before the COVID-19 pandemic, said Jeana Goosmann, the founder, CEO and managing partner of the Goosmann Law Firm, on Thursday at ABA Techshow 2022.
She pointed to a July 2019 Colliers International report, which found that space allocation for legal professionals was down by 6% over the prior 18 months. This decrease in floorspace had largely occurred in primary markets, including Chicago, New York and San Francisco.
During her Techshow session, titled “Location, Location, No-cation: Law Firm Real Estate Post-Pandemic,” Goosmann highlighted how COVID-19 has pushed even more law firm owners and managing partners to rethink how they are using their space. They are also often balancing competing expectations—while many lawyers have embraced working remotely at least a couple of days per week, others are eager to return to their offices.
“Many partners are back to work, and maybe they are also committed to a longer-term lease that they have to think about how to handle,” said Goosmann, whose law firm has offices in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.
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She noted that lawyers tend to move slowly when it comes to making changes, and even the ones who don’t might have to drag others with them as they try to move forward.
“So just think about mindset and how are we going to make this shift when people are not valuing this space in the same way we did before,” she said.
Goosmann, who has bought and leased space for her firm, contended that real estate will continue to be important to law firm employees and clients, particularly those in consumer-facing practice areas, such as estate planning, bankruptcy and personal tax.
For law firm leaders who are considering a move, she suggested selecting a space that is convenient for employees and clients and provides easy access to parking. She also said mobile walls have become more popular and offer more options for reconfiguring offices to meet evolving needs.
Goosmann emphasized that law firms with multiple offices have been able to afford more flexibility to their employees in the shifting work environment.
“When you have multiple offices, you start to get that ability to expand your recruitment pool and your talent pool and shuffle people around but have them stay with your organization,” she said.
She argued that bigger firms must be able to hire talent and give them the option of working remotely.
Goosmann also pointed out that law firm leaders who are creating new offices have to decide between dedicated spaces and hoteling for their employees. They have to think about balancing productivity, collaboration and attorney engagement, leading some to set aside quiet spaces for deep work or specific rooms for remote meetings.
She said other law firms are planning for amenities that help “earn their employees’ commute.” For smaller law firms, that could mean a coffee bar, stocked refrigerator or wellness room. Larger law firms may incorporate a daycare, yoga room or spa into their offices.
Despite these changes in office space and locations, Goosmann stressed that it is important for law firms to continue to centralize their management.
“Think through how you are going to manage this distributed workforce and make sure your management is all running on the same systems, processes and procedures because that is what is going to keep your firm together going forward,” she said.