Law Firms Seek More Efficient Office Space

By Stuart Alston, Kirk Diamond and Dale Lewis
ATLANTA (Aug. 31, 2009) – Corporate America continues to work to increase efficiencies and decrease costs, and law firms are right there with these companies.

King-and-Spalding-reception Top law firms in Atlanta and across the country are streamlining operations, thanks to technological advances and cost-conscious CFO’s. These actions are impacting the firms’ real estate needs and decisions.

In general, law firms are reducing their overall space needs and standardizing office sizes. The days of the palatial offices are gone. Lawfirms are engaging space planners and interior build-out firms to help maximize the space they have. Seyfarth Shaw LLP picked the office tower under construction at 1075 Peachtree St. in Midtown Atlanta, and King & Spalding anchored a new tower at 14th and Peachtree streets in Midtown.

Several other law firms are out in the market now, including Alston & Bird. When law firms go out to the market with RFP’s, new or planned buildings usually get serious consideration because they tend to offer more efficient floor plans and enable the firms to help create the space to fit their needs.

One interesting trend we’re seeing is the shrinking of the law library. For decades, law firms have been known to have expansive law libraries that store volumes of case law, legal reviews and other books and documents deemed necessary to best do their jobs. The emergence of digital storage, however, has dramatically reduced the need for the old-school law library. As a result, today’s law libraries are only about a quarter of the size when compares with two decades ago.

Video conferencing also is affecting law firms’ space needs. As law firms use video conferencing to replace large meetings that require travel, the need for several conference rooms in their space is diminishing.

Law firms also are reducing space needs by restructuring numbers of administrative assistants per attorney. The days of having one assistant for every two attorneys are gone. Today, law firms likely will have one assistant working with as many as five attorneys. This trend also greatly impacts a firms’ space needs.

Another way law firms are cutting space costs is by leasing space atop the parking decks of office towers or on subterranean levels. These spaces, which have lower lease rates, are good for back offices, records storage and large meetings.

We expect these trends to continue and heat up through 2009 as more law firms look to reduce costs, partly through more-efficient office space. 

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