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Are London Lawyers Finally Embracing Modern Workspace?

London Office
Ideal legal workstation?

Law firms are changing. Not fast, obviously, because that is not how law firms think. But a modest, snail-paced revolution is in progress and London law firms are leading the way.

New research by CBRE into the European legal scene shows how far they are modernising their office requirements, and how far they are not.

“With the legal sector having generally favoured more traditional patterns of office occupation, it is interesting to see that some firms are beginning to move towards more open, agile environments and how this varies across the EMEA regions,” CBRE Senior Director Frances Warner Lacey said. “Increasingly we are seeing the drive to move to more interesting dynamic workspaces is being driven by the talent agenda as well as the need to contain costs and I expect this will be the catalyst for change across the EMEA regions.”

The full research can be found here but here are the three major takeaways.

1. No Innovation Please, We’re Lawyers

A new study of European law firms suggests the cliché about law firms wedded to traditional office floorspace is in fact the truth. Lawyers are extremely unlikely to adopt modern workplace trends, according to a CBRE analysis of solicitors and attorneys in 15 European markets.

The data shows 89% of law firms continuing to adopt a traditional fixed desk policy for staff.

However, London and Dublin law firms are the most likely to opt for agile workspace, with up to 60% of London law firms operating some form of flexible desk policy. Dublin was a shade behind at 58%.
2. Lots Of Leg Room

Lawyers use a lot more floorspace than most commercial office occupiers, but exactly how much depends on the local business culture. Across the 15 markets analysed, the average space allocated per person is 232 SF but with some wide variations. 

Law firms in Brussels, a city famous for its excellent restaurants and long lunches, record the highest space allocation per person taking a hefty 506 SF per person. Edinburgh, frugal capital of a frugal country, takes the lowest at 129 SF.

In London (210 SF per person) and Dublin (176 SF per person) law firms have responded to high office rents by being economic with floorspace, yet in super-expensive Paris and Moscow they take above average floorspace allocations. It all depends what the partners are used to.

3. Money No Object?

Lawyers seem to be fairly insensitive to price. Paris is the most expensive home for a law firm with occupational costs of £17,518 per person. Moscow comes second at £14,300, with London third at £11,095. Milan, Munich and Frankfurt are all close behind London. Dublin is relatively cheap at £7,424.

CBRE said that while variation is partly explainable by market rents across the cities analysed, this correlation is not uniform. For example, in Dublin and Dubai, law firms pay less rent per person than the market average, despite being at the more expensive end of the market rent scale, demonstrating the use of more efficient space standards to manage occupational costs.