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The Changing Look of the Law Office

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Last week, Bisnow reported on the changing look of the modern law office. No longer palatial structures with marble floors, Persian-rugged corner offices and mahogany conference room tables designed to impress clients and intimidate opposing counsel, today’s law offices resemble high tech firms with sparsely furnished, open layouts, fishbowl offices and brightly lit collaboration spaces. Several factors account for the transformation, continues Bisnow . Few clients meet lawyers (at least big law attorneys) on their home turf so there’s no one to impress.  And many lawyers spend more time working from home, and check in at the office just a few hours a day or day and don’t need a full-time space. Finally, with most research resources and client files all going digital, firms can downsize by eliminating the library and file room.

Similar options exist today for solo and small firms. When I started my firm back in the dark ages, the only spaces that I could afford were dark holes with carpets reeking of cigarette smoke. Eventually, I leased virtual office space where the offices were equally unattractive but at least clean and with one impressive conference room where I typically met with clients. But today, a big-law modern office can be had on a dime at co-working facilities that populate most major cities where rents tend to be high.  One of my colleagues and small law firm owner, Jordan Rushie describes his experience  at a WeWork facility in Philadelphia.   I moved into similar space a few years back when my husband was ill since it gave me the flexibility to work out of multiple offices including one close to home – but I’ve stayed because I love the community vibe and comfortable work space (though I have a private office, you can often find me working in the many different alcoves around the office for change of pace).

Looking back, I wonder why we lawyers, particularly solos and smalls – have always put ourselves in such uncomfortable and dated surroundings.   Is it what our clients expected of us? Or is it what we ourselves thought was important?  Since I run a national firm, I have the luxury of putting my needs first when it comes to office space, since it’s rare for clients to visit me – and since many of my clients are small renewable energy companies or somewhat sophisticated, the space usually appeals to them. I’m not sure the same would be true to clients whose only experience with lawyers comes from television shows like Allie McBeal or Suits.

Has your attitude towards office space changed over time? How does your space look different today than a decade ago? Join the comments below.

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