As a managing partner in a top London firm put it, “Up to this point, law firms have been simply practicing law. Now, we have to run a business that practices law.”
In this day and age, where the legal profession has become increasingly commoditized — an online company called LegalZoom provides wills for $69, for example — and the likes of IBM are investing millions of dollars into artificial intelligence to automate legal services, the tradition of practicing law, at least as we know it, is no more.
Now, in order to stay competitive, relevant and profitable — and retain clients for personal, face-to-face interaction as opposed to letting them fulfill their legal needs with a click of a mouse — law firms are switching their focus from simply providing sound legal advice to delivering a top-notch service experience along with it.
So what does this mean for the future of the legal industry? I predict more mergers, disruptive technologies and jurisdictions allowing non-lawyers to own law firms (as is the case in Australia and England). This will lead to new entrants such as Deloitte in the UK and more publicly listed law firms — all while traditional law firms grapple with understanding their own value proposition for their clients.
I recently completed a 16-city tour of the world’s top law firms. I saw a couple of remarkable trends emerging:
1. Open layouts are becoming the new norm in England and Australia. A clear departure from their traditional mahogany-bathed, perimeter office layouts, law firms in these regions are adopting an open-layout concept. This design fosters collaboration and knowledge transfer among associates, translating to a better-informed team and a higher level of client service. It also helps the lawyers within the firm to cross-sell their practice groups — good for the firm and good for the client’s business challenges.
2. Client concierges are emerging in London. To deliver white glove service, law firms are employing concierges to give clients the red carpet treatment once they walk through the doors. From providing a warm welcome and serving fresh coffee to facilitating Wi-Fi access, concierges are the new faces of law firms, helping to make the profession synonymous with stellar service.
3. Law firms are no longer “all work and no play” environments. A law firm in Washington, D.C., has a Ping-Pong table in its café to engage younger employees and make working long hours more enticing. A New York firm has a wood-fired oven so clients and staff alike can enjoy fresh thin-crust pizza. Whether they’re targeting their workforce or their client base, these law firms are honing in on engaging and retaining their best talent.
4. A law career and family are a working combination. Lawyers are not necessarily choosing between career and family anymore. Law firms are accommodating employees’ need to balance work with home life. A law firm in London designed a home office shed that can be installed in an employee’s backyard so lawyers can work from home. This move helps the firm secure highly talented lawyers who want more time with their families.
5. A law firm’s brand is in its address. More and more, law firms are using their spaces to make a statement. They’re letting their layout and location speak volumes in terms of their image, market differentiator, talent pool and strategy. A prominent Vancouver law firm has chosen to relocate to a coveted downtown address, creating a buzz in the industry. Such a move suggests the company is progressive, modern and adaptable to the trends and changes within the legal profession. The new address is also poised to recruit — and retain — the best in the field.
As the face of the legal profession continues to morph and clients demand more from their legal counsel for less, it is integral that law firms understand their unique value proposition and secure their position in a competitive market. A Ping-Pong table or wood-fired oven may not be the answer for every company, but recognizing the need to adapt to changing client expectations and define its offering are critical first steps for law firms to ensure their place in the legal world of the future.
Smart firms are claiming — and proclaiming — their respective stakes in the marketplace. And they’re doing so using their office space.
As Executive Vice President for Colliers International in Vancouver, Colin works with some of the area’s largest companies to find real estate solutions for their business challenges. He recently took a year to travel to 16 cities around the world to research the future of the business of law and office space, speaking regularly at conferences about his finding and workspace predictions.