Click here for part two of this post.

Today our offices are largely fashioned around Industrial Age thinking, obviously with some exceptions. But by the mid 2020s we will all be deep in the digital age and the spaces and places we will require will be very very very different. It is therefore critical to not think of the legal future as a digitized version of today. Or law firm real estate at that time being just an iteration of what is prevalent today. Welcome to The Imaginarium, Antony Slumbers says: “A place where we go to do what computers can’t” to:

  • Define the work we want the computers and robots to do;
  • Make existing products better;
  • Create new products; and
  • Create experiences (the key, rather than money, to happiness).

Antony argues we will need this Imaginarium because “creatively we are in trouble.” In April 2015 Nesta published a report titled Creativity vs Robots. It stated that “47 [percent] of U.S. jobs and 35 [percent] of those in the UK are at high risk of computerisation. However those jobs that were creative had an 87 [percent] chance of not being replaceable.’

I have said this before (as far back as 2009 in my articles and books) and I will say it again. Being creative as a lawyer, becoming SocialHuman Lawyer, gives you the highest chance of avoiding being replaced by a robot. Back in May this year in Managing Partner magazine I wrote the feature “Machines v humans,”  wherein I suggested it is abundantly clear that many legal businesses are moving towards the “martini” way of working – anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Alexander Low, the head of JLL’s legal sector group had this to say: “The office environment acts as a calling card for both clients and employees as a strong expression of [organizational] culture and brand, and plays an essential part in enabling the collaboration, creativity and employee engagement so critical to productivity and growth.”

I wondered what Alexander thought about the recent research and the content of what I have shared with you already… so I asked him for his opinion and to share his insights with me during a recent interview. This is what he had to say.

The 9-5 law office 

In his view, whilst there is not going to be an overnight switch, the 9-5 is “slowly becoming a thing past though. Technology is enabling this at such a fast rate that we cannot keep up. The challenge how to deliver the law in a cost effective and client friendly way is now a very real question that Managing Partners are having to answer. Yes, the pound per square foot per partner income is key, but this is now only a part of the sum total,” he says.

Leaders of law firms have a number of other challenges to meet, “including managing four generations of employee, all with very different views on where and how they want to work, all of this against a back drop where the client is now really starting to dictate to law firms on price.” The only way they can maintain margins is “flexing how they deliver the advice, be it by near or off shoring, technology or having lawyers work in a different way – e.g. at home?” However he believes there will always be a place for the law office. “… Human nature is that you want to have a sense of belonging, the office creates this anchor point; it is also a way for an [organization] to define its sense of self and culture, which is becoming increasingly important for the talent of the future, not to mention the sustainability agenda.”

Office environments

The question is how property can positively impact the challenges. Law firms may be looking at acquisitions or shoring a part of the delivery model of their services, reviewing workplace design and how the office environment is being used to attract and retain the best talent or considering new technology solutions to help deliver legal advice in a more efficient way – all of this against the foundation of driving cost out of the business where appropriate to maintain margins. “You can look at these themes in isolation, however, we are finding that they are all linked intrinsically; being able to answer these will then start to drive how you use the office and even start to redefine what the office actually means for you and your [organization].” Mr. Low believes that no one-size fits all. “It is not a simple question of open plan [versus] cellular; you need to be able look at how your business works, what culture you want to create and what the expectation is of your clients in how you service them. Only once you have understood and more importantly articulated this back to the business can you truly start to re-define the office. Like any change management process, you must be able to articulate the Why and How it will benefit your staff.”

London is leading the way

JLL’s latest research – GROW.LONDON – on the future of London, for example,  is the start of showing how the dynamic is changing the office environment from a location. “The defined markets are now blurring in terms of where occupiers are basing themselves. The impact of new transport infrastructure such as Crossrail and the Northern & Bakerloo line extensions are going to open up a new market to access talent far easier; the cost of housing in London is becoming prohibitive for a lot of new home owners, driving future talent into new areas of London, meaning that occupiers now have to start thinking beyond the traditional locations.” He predicts that in 10 years time, “the 9-5 will cease to exist; the office will have an executive type lounge feel to it that will enable the law to be delivered in a collaborative way that meets the client’s needs – if you have multiple office locations, it will be similar to when you go into a BA Exec Lounge – they are all unique but you know you are in a BA lounge, this is what you want both the employee and client to feel.”

Chrissie Lightfoot is author of Tomorrow’s Naked Lawyer: NewTech, NewHuman, NewLaw – How to be successful 2015 to 2045 (published Nov. 2014 ), and its prequel bestseller The Naked Lawyer: RIP to XXX – How to Market, Brand and Sell You! (Nov. 2010). You can pick up her latest book today by emailing or call +44(0) 207 566 5792.

This article was first published in the Global Legal Post on Oct. 15, 2015 titled,“The end of the law office versus the beginning of imaginarium” and is reproduced with permission.

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