Designing the Office for the New Legal Landscape: Here Come the Millennials

by | 05 July 2017

So far in this series, we have examined the need for law firms to carve a new path on the road to opportunity by reconsidering office design, particularly given the economic realities of today.

Another key element at play is the fact that millennials are becoming the dominant demographic in general and in the workplace in particular. Consider:

While not all millennials think and act alike, many share common attitudes toward the workplace. According to the Mancini-Duffy Center for Workplace Innovation:

  • This generation is totally comfortable with technology, having spent much of their youth with home computers, internet access, electronic games and cell phones.
  • Coveting mobility, their “status” may be tied more to technology and quality of life than to office space.
  • They are more collaborative, extremely team-oriented and handle change much more readily than previous generations.

What does all this have to do with the business of the law firm and the design of the law office? Just about everything. Numerous studies conclude the following:

  • The right working environment is essential to attract the new generation of workers and retain top talent.
  • Workers under 30 prefer access to team spaces, breakout spaces and individually customizable work areas versus conventional offices and meeting rooms.
  • Working arrangements must be flexible to satisfy the work-life balance they demand.


Nixon Peabody has grown considerably since their founding in the 1850s and now deploys more than 650 attorneys in 16 offices across the U.S., Europe and Asia. While the legal industry as a whole has been slow to embrace change, Nixon Peabody is focused on building the law firm of the future. The firm is creating an energetic, entrepreneurial and collaborative work environment to break down silos and encourage teamwork.

Nixon Peabody is building upon its industry-leading office design now in New York City (office slated to open in July 2017), incorporating many of the same elements recently rolled out in new office spaces in Washington, D.C. (2015) and Los Angeles (2016).

The firm’s Washington, D.C. office space has 33% less square footage than the previous office in that market. Nixon Peabody achieved this by using lots of glass and light to create a transparent feel, making less space feel like more. In addition, the firm incorporated:

  • Zero corner offices. Corner spaces are team meeting rooms rather than private offices. All offices for partners, associates and paralegals are the same size and have glass entryways rather than solid doors and walls.
  • 1,550 plants that make up a three-story living wall in the lobby, providing the same amount of air filtration as five mature trees
  • An inviting reception area with an open staircase and an adjacent café, complete with espresso machines
  • The option for each attorney to have a standing desk
  • Solar panels on the roof, which enable 100 affordable housing residents to receive a credit on their energy bills

Image credit: Eric Laignel.

“The physical spaces in most law firms tend to be built for prestige. This is really an opportunity to turn that on its head. Law firm leases typically go for 15 years. It becomes really clear really quickly that the vast majority of people now in the law office won’t be here in 15 years. So we had to think: Who are we building for?” said Jeffrey Lesk, Nixon Peabody’s Washington, D.C. office managing partner

Explained Nixon Peabody Chief Executive Andrew Glincher, “Several years ago, the attitude of law firm partners was, ‘Millennials are going to have to be like us.’ But very quickly, they learned, they’re not going to be like us and we need to adapt. We need to be open to new ideas and keenly aware of what motivates millennials. Especially if we want to attract and retain top talent.”

In the next installment of this series, we will examine the case for change in law office design and the ways firms can make balanced decisions.

Also: Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 4 | Read Part 5

As President of National Office Services, Cynthia leads Colliers’ national office platform across service lines including office leasing, representing tenants and landlords, investment sales, leasing agency and property management.