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Janey Saunders, Knoll Director of Workplace Strategy, Moderates “Emerging Workplace Planning Trends” Panel

Legal Work 2013 Panel Focuses on Planning Trends for Law Offices

October 23, 2013

Knoll director of workplace strategy, Janey Saunders, moderated the “Emerging Workplace Planning Trends” panel at the Legal Work 2013 Conference in New York City on October 15, 2013. The conference is a forum for all workplace professionals involved in the future of work and the workplace for legal industry. The event was organized by Unwired, a branch of Cordless Group that produces conferences and training events, and co-sponsored by Knoll and Williams Lea.

Panelists Susan Moyer, space planning manager, Paul, Weiss; Tom Krizmanic, principal, STUDIOS Architecture; and Spencer Klein, partner and co-chair of the firm's global mergers & acquisitions group, Morrison & Foerster, discussed topics including how law offices are evolving to accommodate real estate pressures, the need for individual space and effective collaborative spaces, firm branding opportunities and flexibility so that spaces can adapt to different functions over time.

“Real estate is currently the second highest expense to law firms,” Janey Saunders said, referencing the Knoll Research white paper, The Emerged Law Practice: Progressive Traits of the Modern Day Offices. The paper cites “minimizing real estate square footage or cost per employee as one of the top reasons for workplace change.

Commenting on planning space for new lawyers, Susan Moyer said: “We moved first year associates to shared offices on the interior. We find that first year associates really like the congeniality.” Additionally, effective planning and shared workspaces offer cost-savings advantages that allowed Paul, Weiss to increase floor capacity by 30% without affecting attraction and retention of new employees.  The Emerged Law Practice also observes that although collaborative work has become more important in law offices, 70% of all legal work still takes place in the primary workspace.

“Collaboration in law firms doesn’t look like collaboration at a tech company,” Janey Saunders said, “However, the placement and type of furniture is still crucial.”  Tom Krizmanic shared some planning approaches that work best in law offices. "We've found in law firms, standing height-tables work really well because people are more comfortable. When using lounge-height [furniture] people feel like they are too casual.”

The Emerged Office whitepaper also notes that the overwhelming influence on law firm demographics will be age. “According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Generation Y will comprise more than 50% of the workforce by 2020 compared with 25% in 2010.” Spencer Klein noted that “A lot of firms try to create these spaces for collaboration with pool tables in conference rooms. We didn't get the sense people would use these spaces.” Instead, STUDIOS Architecture creates conference rooms that are flexible and can be used for a range of activities. “We don't just want double use - we want infinite flexibility for client spaces. It's a huge investment and we want to maximize that,” Spencer continued.

The Emerged Office whitepaper reports that a “technology fluent, group-based mindset permeates the law field today.”  Janey Saunders also noted that well-designed offices can be an effective business tool when used to host events and enhance the firm’s brand. The Emerged Office notes: “The emerged law practice is expressing culture as a means to attract new clients and new talent. The role of the office has elevated in importance as a business tool and continues to be the resource around which a robust service is deployed.

Visit Knoll Research for whitepapers and infographics related to the legal industry and other sectors.