A treadmill desk? Clear walls? These are some of the design features used in the new offices of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Washington, where the global firm set up shop two years ago.
It’s all ‘future proofing’ according to Freshfields, who have also used two-lawyer set-ups, something very rare in DC.
The National Law Journal says that a variety of firms in the capital are doing something similar, whether in new offices or via retro-fitting in existing space.
Part of the move is purely economic – to reduce the need for space and provide for sub-letting of office space to other tenants.
Washington law offices now average between 700 and 850 square feet per lawyer, down notably from the days when many devoted about 1,000 square feet per lawyer, according to commercial real estate group Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.
One reason is price. Outside New York, the capital has the nation’s most expensive real estate for law firms. Washington rents now range from $69 per square foot in base rent if a firm renews its lease to $80 per square foot in a new building, Jones Lang LaSalle reported this year.
The trend is the same the world over, including major law firms in London, Toronto, Sydney and elsewhere.
In DC there has been a move to remove the prestigious corner offices to make space for meeting rooms. Hogan Lovells (see image above) have given same-sized offices to both partners and associates.
The firms are now moving into far more forward-thinking in the way they layout their offices
Generally, Martin said, law firms in D.C. are just as forward-thinking as those in New York, and have tried new office configurations that other markets might not yet have attempted.
Holland & Knight’s new building near the White House, for instance, has one floor with no offices along its windowed perimeter. The firm lined the perimeter with furniture that prompts informal meetings. Sidley Austin also doubled down on informal meeting space, converting its basement mailroom into a half-cafeteria, half-conference area. The centerpiece of the conference area looks like a large library or living room, complete with bright gold and tan chairs and a 22-foot working fireplace.
The trend is only going to continue say the experts – driven both by economics and an increasing desire by many firms to put a firm stamp on who they are and who they represent.