NYC Brick & Mortar: How Law Firm Office Space Is Changing

(August 31, 2018, 10:49 AM EDT) -- Law firms across the country have been shrinking their footprints as aspects of the traditional office model like the library become obsolete and rents in major markets skyrocket. In this first of a four-part series on how the trend is playing out in New York City, Law360 looks at how firms are changing their office size.

While reconfiguring office layouts in the digital age has generally meant less square footage per lawyer because of downsized common spaces and file storage, law firms are taking that a step further by also shrinking individual offices for partners and associates.

For the series, Law360 surveyed a wide range of law firms with offices in New York, from small boutiques to the largest firms in the country, and 10 firms provided data. Firms of all sizes participated, with spaces running the gamut from more than 100,000 square feet to less than 10,000 square feet.

The survey is restricted to one geographical market in an attempt to present a case study of the trend absent variables like differences in city layouts that would have come into play had multiple markets been considered.

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Among the common themes in survey responses were moves to take less square footage per lawyer as libraries and paper files are increasingly becoming obsolete, and as firms look for ways to cut costs amid skyrocketing rents.

"The legal sector as a whole is moving toward less dependence on books and on paper files. Some firms are slower than others. I think that we are certainly heading in the right direction and we're not among the firms that are resistant to change," said David Donahue of Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu PC, which has seen its square footage per lawyer in New York fall each year for three consecutive years.

Firms, though, are also moving to smaller individual offices for both partners and associates. That shift is partly being driven by costs and partly by the changing nature of the business, which is seeing lawyers spend less time in law firm offices and more time working remotely.

According to Law360's survey, square footage per attorney in New York fell over the past two years, from 875 square feet as of June 1, 2016, to 829 square feet as of June 1, 2018.

Coupled with that was a reduction in total square footage. Firms' average of 53,450 square feet of space fell to 41,173 square feet over the two-year period.

And in tandem with those two trends, partner and associate offices have also gotten smaller. Two years ago, the average partner office was 193 square feet and the average associate office 137 square feet. As of June 1, 2018, those figures had fallen to 178 and 133 square feet, respectively.

This series will take a deeper dive into two areas of change, and will examine ways in which some law firms are bucking those trends.

--Editing by Marygrace Murphy.

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