Article | Evolving Workforces

The office’s role as law firms’ ‘silent partner’

The war for talent is one of the legal industry’s biggest challenges and, even in the age of hybrid working, the office has a vital role to play in that.

June 20, 2022

By Tristan Gannan

Five employees gather around a shared table in a modern workspace.

The war for talent is one of the legal industry’s biggest challenges and, even in the age of hybrid working, the office has a vital role to play in that. 

Firms are pushing to create an office that is better than working from home, and earns the commute, but it goes further than the grade of the building.

There’s been a re-think about the purpose of an office, and a focus on how the workplace can become a firm’s silent partner.

The office is increasingly viewed a tool firms can use to drive culture and differentiate themselves from competitors to attract and retain the best talent; in much the same way a candidate might be drawn to working with a particular partner. 

CBRE recently surveyed more than a dozen firms global firms currently practicing in Australia, and there were some interesting results.

Of the respondents, 37% named the war on talent as the biggest disruptor they’re facing, followed by post-pandemic hybrid workplaces on 25%. The two are very much linked. 

Providing flexibility is important but from the discussions we're having there's an underlying desire to have people electing to come in three or more days a week. So then it's about how you achieve that.

As it stands, and with 29% of respondents yet to establish a hybrid-working policy, 86% of firms reported that their employees are coming in two or three days a week, with the balance four days.

It’s generally partners and paralegals coming in the most. Partners have recognised that in order to generate revenue, build their teams and steer the ship, they need to physically be there and lead by example.

The paralegals are fresh out of university, in the early stages of their career and building those vital internal and external networks. They also want to socialise, they want that buzz and excitement of coming to the city. 

But it’s proving more of a struggle to get that middle tier of personnel into the office, the solicitors and senior associates, who tend to have more family commitments.

Lockdowns taught people who have never worked from home that they can, so you have to make a compelling case to earn that commute.

The office has a major role to play in drawing people in, and 92% of our survey respondents identified employee and client experience as the number one factor that will shape their firm’s next fitout. 

More broadly, and before you get to hybrid working arrangements, that office experience is a key tool in the war on talent. 

Firms are growing and the volume of work they’ve been doing over the past 12-18 months has risen, but closed borders have cut skilled migrants out of the employment market, so it’s a challenge to have enough people to deliver that work. 

Mobility among lawyers, including partners and partner-team acquisitions, has also been massive over the past 12 months or so. 

Firms are growing, and they’re accommodating more people in the same space by using their footprint differently.

They’re changing their existing workplace layouts, having traditionally operated in configurations dominated by assigned offices and seating.

The quality of the fitout and buildings they occupy is unlikely to change, though. Of the new leases CBRE has tracked since the start of 2021, half of the firms relocated into a Premium-grade asset, highlighting the flight to quality.

Together with location, fitouts will remain important in terms of the experiential factors of the office, and how it can be used as a tool to drive culture and collaboration, and ensure you have the strongest possible team.