All Rise - The future of the legal workplace

Traditionally, law firms have viewed their workplaces and real estate as something of secondary importance. This is a mistake.

June 07, 2019

The UK’s legal sector appears to be in a period of remarkable strength. Revenues in the sector grew 6% in 2018 to just over £35.5 billion. More than 320,000 people are employed in legal professions. Unlike many other parts of the UK economy, the legal sector is an international success story – net exports from legal services totalled more than £12.8 billion across the last three years, while four of the world’s largest 15 law firms are headquartered in the UK.

Drivers: The transformation of work in the legal sector 

These statistics, however, mask the fact that many UK law firms are navigating a period of profound transition. New entrants into the sector and the growth of in-house teams have seen the supply chain of legal service delivery become more diverse and complex. The relentless advance of new technologies, such as machine learning and data analytics, are creating huge efficiencies in how legal work is undertaken, but also requiring firms to augment their workforces with unfamiliar skill sets. Operating models which have endured within law firms for decades (if not longer) are being uprooted as firms adopt more agile and dynamic business practises. 

Consequences: How workplace and real estate strategy has responded

This report tracks the workplace and real estate strategies law firms have adopted in response to changes taking place in the sector. Based on interviews with a broad spectrum of decision-makers from across the sector, we’ve identified four ways firms have sought to future proof their property: 

1. Portfolio realignment. Changing competitive dynamics have led many firms to limit headcount growth in London while expanding in regional cities across the UK. 

2. Workplace evolution. The changing structure and scope of legal work has seen firms deploy new open, hybrid and agile workplace configurations to better support their people, encourage different behaviours or aid the transition to new ways of working.

3. Spaces for innovation. Technological innovation is becoming critical to how legal services are delivered, but relies on partnerships between law firms, start-ups, software firms and clients. This is impacting physical space requirements as firms create specialist incubator or innovation labs, in which they can collaborate with partner firms.

4. Optimising experience. Law firms are increasingly leveraging the design and fit out of their workplaces to improve talent attraction, promote employee wellbeing, and instil a sense of shared brand and values. New forms of client spaces are being deployed to support more frequent and varied interactions with clients.

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