BY JAMES ROBINSON
rooms on every floor for large firms, or
even simply in bookcases lining the
halls, these libraries used substantial
square footage, at tremendous cost. But
what choice did firms have? To output
billable hours, you needed a library; the
cost was justified.
• In 1985, before word processors, attorneys needed significantly more support
staff. Every lawyer would have his or
her own secretary, and some practice
groups or more senior partners had significantly higher ratios of support staff
to lawyer. Again, paying these secretaries was not frivolous; it was the only
economic way to maximize the output
of the partners and associates.
• Most important, the design
of individual offices was based
on a model of work that is
becoming outdated today.
This yielded a requirement
for larger offices capable of
providing significant work surfaces (desks),
filing space (credenzas, filing cabinets) and
meeting space (small tables, couches, chairs).
All of these imperatives increased the size
of an effective partner’s office to as large
18'. That is an office space of 240
square feet (before an approximate 10 percent load factor, a 30 percent circulation
factor and before accounting for space
required for support staff). Including all
factors, the actual square footage that could
be attributed to a single typical partner
might have been 380 square feet.
But all of these 1985 imperatives have been
resolved through the use of technology. No
one is designing law firm space today with
extensive libraries, which are now electronic.
Few lawyers have a dedicated secretary today.
And, though it has been slow to happen in
Arizona, the size of lawyers’ individual offices
So will this trend continue? If so, why? And
Technology, Economics Change Law Firm Offices
JAMES ROBINSON is the President of Phoenix Realty
Advisors, a commercial real estate firm focused on the
exclusive representation of office tenants.
Technology and economics are literally changing the shape of law firms.
It is no secret that the world is a changing place. And in the face of
that change, you either adapt or die. This evolutionary imperative is
perhaps slower to affect law firms, but it is still ignored at great peril.
efore we predict what the law firm
of 2018–2025 may look like, let’s examine
the law firm of 1985 and how that model
worked, and how it has evolved over the last
30 years. In looking back we recall that the
amount of office space used per lawyer has
shrunk by between 20 percent and 30 percent in that time span.
In 1985, law firms used much more
space per lawyer than they do today. This
is not because lawyers were frivolous. Law
firms have always been economic animals,
and office space is a significant cost, so they
were not being wasteful.
Consider the following:
• Law firms in 1985 used to have exten-
sive physical libraries. Whether these
libraries were in a large room or small