Biglaw Lawyers Must Return To The Office To Justify Management’s Reckless Office Space Leases

Manager overworked. Office overwork, unorganized paperwork and business work document sheets piles cartoon illustrationAfter posting record profits with attorneys working from home, Biglaw firms embarked on an effort to force associates back into the physical office that Inspector Javert feels might be over-the-top. Firms have announced paranoid surveillance initiatives, placed bonuses in jeopardy, and even hinted at threatening job status.

Working from home proved a success during the pandemic because trained professionals thrive in that environment. They don’t have to commute and they can get their work done without wasting time keeping lonely partners company throughout the day with unnecessary meetings and drop-bys. That said, working from home presented training challenges for younger lawyers that need colleagues down the hall to teach the soft skills of being an attorney. The three- or four-day in-office work week emerged as a viable compromise.

But the key to a reduced in-office presence is reducing office size. That’s where Biglaw firms have failed spectacularly:

U.S. law firm leasing activity in key markets during the first quarter of 2023 was the strongest since before the pandemic, and markedly higher than the fourth quarter of 2022, Savills Legal Tenant found in its latest report.

During Q1, legal sector leases of 20,000 square feet or more totaled 1.6 million square feet, up 45% from 1.1 million square feet in Q4 of 2022, and above the 1.4 million square foot average through the pandemic, according to the Savills U.S. Law Firm Activity Report Q1 2023.

In a similar report, another commercial real estate company, Cushman & Wakefield, reported this month that leasing volume during the first quarter of 2023 was higher than in any previously recorded Q1. That report looked at leases of 10,000 square feet or more.

No, no, no, no, no. The advantage of a three-day office schedule is in cutting back! Instead, law firms have embraced the worst of all possible worlds, opting for a reduced office work week while mandating fixed attendance days requires the firm to maintain a full five-day office and leave it a ghost town for two more days.

The hybrid office opened the door to hoteling options that encourage smaller offices that are fully utilized throughout the week. Then the firm can slice overhead and potentially pass savings on to the client (or at least maintain current staffing while anticipating the market turnaround). It’s not like the clients are flocking to the office for in-person meetings anymore — those events became the first cost-cutting measures in-house law departments implemented when given an opportunity.

That the hoteling model provides associates with the flexibility that they crave even more than the number of days working from home is just an added bonus.

Rather than take advantage of this, firms are spending money on offices like drunken sailors so everyone has a place to sit when they unnecessarily force the whole workforce into the same building three days a week.

And lawyers are now paying for these floorplans with their bonuses, just so the management can justify keeping their sweet corner offices.

US Law Firm Leasing Strengthens in Q1, Outpacing Pandemic Levels []

Earlier: Biglaw Firm’s Three-Day Office Workweek Descending Into Paranoid Surveillance
Yet Another Top Biglaw Firm Is Using Bonus Threats To Get Associates Back To The Office
Davis Polk Associates Better Get Their Butts To The Office If They Want Their Full Bonus
Another Biglaw Firm Resorts To Bonus Threats To Get Attorneys Back To The Office

HeadshotJoe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.

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