Milbank Singapore — Singapore
Milbank Singapore — Singapore

Do lawyers use the workplace differently?

Research Project Name

2010 Legal Workplace Survey

What We Did

We reached out to a group of top law firms identified through The American Lawyer’s Am Law 100 list to participate in Gensler’s Workplace Performance Index (WPI) survey. Our goal was to get a statistically significant sample of law firm respondents, so we could analyze their data for similarities and differences between legal and other professions represented by our WPI data, as well as create a benchmark database for law firms. Thirteen firms participated, including several with multiple offices. We received 1,202 responses divided almost equally between lawyers and staff; 83% of the responses represented firms before an office move or renovation, while 17% of the responses came after a recent office move or redesign.

The Context

The legal industry bases decisions on precedent, and the legal work process is often different from the work process of other types of firms. As our legal clients make decisions about how to design their offices, they seek data specific to how law firms are working today, as well as data differentiated by role (attorney vs. professional staff). This data is useful for clients to understand how their peers’ offices are performing and allocating space, as well as to help determine how they can better use their workplaces to drive performance, attraction, and retention.

The Results

Lawyers collaborate a great deal, but they do it primarily in their offices—a location that we would not typically think of as a collaborative space. Focus work continues to happen largely in private offices as well. Socializing is also very important at today’s law firm, particularly for attorneys, a result we found surprising.

Overall, WPI scores for recently occupied or renovated offices were 15% higher than preoccupancy scores, and spaces to support focus and collaborative work showed a marked improvement in effectiveness, suggesting that newer office designs are performing better. Younger generations are generally more satisfied with their workspace than older generations, as judged by their individual WPI scores. Spaces for learning (e.g., meeting and training areas) rated the lowest among staff.

Although expensive technology incorporated into law firm conference centers often gets more attention, the most critical technologies were telephones, teleconferencing equipment, and wireless connectivity. Top-rated amenities were on-site fitness centers (although having a nearby facility rated almost as high), a staff lunchroom, and outdoor workspaces.

What This Means

Recognize that private offices are for more than focusing. Attorney offices are being used for a wider range of activities than just focus work. The vast majority of collaboration by attorneys is happening in their own or others’ private offices.

Provide collaborative and social space. Attorneys spend over a quarter of their day collaborating, and value both collaboration and socializing more than the nonlegal staff does. The right spaces can improve the effectiveness of this collaboration throughout the office.

Invest in the right technology. Though firms often incorporate expensive technology into conference centers, the most critical technologies are the telephone, teleconferencing equipment, and wireless connectivity.

What’s Next?

We followed this research with a roundtable meeting with participants from top law firms to discuss and elaborate on our findings and put our data in the context of larger market and legal industry issues. Since the initial analysis, the respondent pool has expanded greatly, offering further opportunities to update and add to these findings.

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Marilyn Archer, Julia Simet, Doug Zucker

Year Completed