08/25/2021 • 5 min read

How Law Firms are Successfully Adopting New Work Models

Changes to space, work, and culture in the legal industry

by Haworth, Inc.

For law firms, there is no precedent for the recent transformation in where work gets done. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the longstanding tradition of in-person judicial conferences was overturned in an instant with the announcement of stay-at-home orders in early 2020. Partners, associates, paralegals, and support staff had to quickly adapt to working from home. For many people in the field, it was the first time legal work took place remotely. 

Fast-forward to today, law firms around the US are welcoming staff back to the office but finding that both senior and junior level attorneys have a preference—even an expectation—to continue working remotely at least part of the time. The global shift to a hybrid work model, and the experiences over the last year, have law firms of all sizes re-examining the workspace and how it is used.

Remote Work Is Here to Stay

The American Bar Association and numerous surveys have declared remote work is here to stay. Pre-pandemic, 37% of lawyers desired to work remotely at least one day a week—now, 76% favor remote work.

The greatest challenge facing law firms is how to best restructure the workplace around staff schedules and needs. To do just that, many law firms are asking questions like:

  • Should we reduce real estate or repurpose our existing spaces?
  • With staff working varied schedules, how do we support collaborative work?
  • What types of spaces will best support our culture and a flexible work model? 

Adapt or Risk Losing Valuable Talent

Firms that fail to adapt to the new work climate face a very real threat. Without a work from anywhere approach, valued members of the team will likely leave for firms that are more flexible.

A column by Vivia Chen on Bloomberg Law points out that many law associates do want to return to the office. Chen argues that people are eager to get out—for personal and professional reasons—after spending so much time at home. However, these same associates do not want to return to the office full-time. Choice in where work gets done is a major factor. A Bloomberg News poll shows that 49% of Millennial and Gen Z employees would choose to quit their jobs if remote work is not offered. 

Support Home Office Setups

One way for law firms to retain and attract talent is by equipping staff with ergonomic equipment—desks, seating, and accessories—for home use. 

Recently, Haworth worked with the New York City office of SimCorp, an investment management firm, to provide employees with supportive at-home office spaces. A purchase program allowed employees to select height-adjustable desks and ergonomic chairs. Employees found that the new products increased their comfort and productivity while working from home. Plus, the equipment made it easier for them to focus on work tasks. 

A similar program could be adopted by other legal firms to support their teams’ well-being, enhance productivity, help avoid burnout, entice new talent, and increase the retention of top talent. 

Shifts in Culture

The pandemic fast-tracked law offices to join a trend that has been unfolding for several years in other professions: the office as a hub. A hub is a place for social engagement where people create and strengthen relationships—and where a large part of an organization’s culture is built. It is also a place where work gets done. With the call for the office as a hub, reevaluating how much space is needed and how it will be used is vital. 

With support from Haworth, a law firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan successfully implemented a team-centric, hub approach to their attorneys' offices by reprioritizing space utilization. Warner Norcross + Judd reduced the size of private offices to allow for more team, social, refresh, and outdoor spaces. They also prioritized hoteling spaces—areas that are meant for short-term work or temporary in-office work. The hoteling spaces provide flexible seating for when staff and visiting attorneys are working in the office. 

Warner Norcross Judd + Judd also designed the space to expand their role as a community member. A large event space allows the firm to host their own events and provide a place for local organizations to hold events as well. 

Setting a New Precedent 

The growing hybrid work culture as it relates to the legal profession—along with an expanded role for law firms as active community members—reflects the reality law firms must be ready for. The office will continue to be one of several places for associates to do work. At the same time, offices will take on a greater importance as the hub to connect with colleagues and engage with clients. Successful, forward-thinking law offices will also include engaging, multipurpose spaces that are reconfigurable for client and community events during the day or evening. 

It is an exciting time for law firms looking to redesign and reflect the work culture that partners, associates, and staff desire. Firms that approach this challenge by creating team-centric workspaces in both the physical and virtual realms will have an advantage in retaining high performers. 

Reimagine Your Law Office

If you are ready to reimagine your law office, the Haworth team and our authorized dealers are here to help. No matter the budget, we have solutions for law firms of all sizes. Learn about the Haworth Small and Midsize Business program and how we can help reconfigure your law office, as well as set up your staff to work productively from home


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