Dennis O’Malley has an expansive view of the fall foliage of Minneapolis from his corner office on the 42nd floor of the IDS Center.
For the managing partner of law firm Lindquist and Vennum, an office with a view comes as a perk. But when the firm moves to its new space this week, O’Malley’s room won’t even have a window and will look much the same as the other attorneys’ offices.
Still, O’Malley called Lindquist’s move a “breath of fresh air” for the nearly 50-year-old firm as law offices across the country begin to slowly modernize their often archaic offices to reflect the changing legal landscape.
“I think the collaboration and the space that this provides is a shot in the arm,” O’Malley said, as he toured what will soon be his firm’s new home.
Lindquist, one of the original tenants of the IDS Center, will downsize from nearly 95,000 square feet to 81,000 square feet and stay in the building. It is moving from its space on floors 40 to 43 to part of floors 18 through 21.
While the old office was dark and stuffy with a lot of internal rooms that didn’t get any light, the new office is more modern and bright. Lindquist plans to open there Monday, Nov. 7.
Its 20th floor lobby has high-end finishes and a 22-person conference room with a video wall for teleconferencing. There is also a multipurpose room that can serve as an event space, which O’Malley called “the crown jewel” of the new office.
“I think our current space was really good for the 40 years we were there, but this is something special,” he said.
Throughout the new space, there are more areas for informal meetings such as small conference rooms and work counters in the corners that would normally be prime real estate for offices. The personal offices have glass walls so the light easily shines throughout the space.
The personal offices for attorneys are also primarily the same size with the same furniture whereas before attorneys used to be given an allowance to order custom furniture for their rooms, which was expensive and unnecessary, O’Malley said.
Reducing paper files
A lot of the firm’s ability to reduce its footprint is also due to the reduction in paper files, which have become less popular during the digital age. The firm is getting rid of its large high-density shelving units to have minimal cabinets, some of which are hidden in the wall.
Overall, the office changes help serve clients as well as make the firm more efficient, O’Malley said. The new office is an effort to attract and retain new talent, while at the same time saving the firm money.
According to a legal survey published by real estate services firm Cushman and Wakefield this summer, law firms across the country are changing their views on their offices. More law firms are spending less of their gross revenue on real estate, the report said. Cushman and Wakefield helped Lindquist analyze what it needed for its new space.
“It’s not unusual for a firm if they completely gut or renovate or move to other floors or move to another building, they might actually downsize by 20 to 30 percent and that’s not necessarily through anything other than being smart, getting rid of excess space … versus just giving them the big, old fat partners’ offices that they go and sit in,” said Sherry Cushman, executive managing director and leader of the firm’s legal sector advisory group.
According to a report released this month by JLL, law firms in the Minneapolis area have historically, until the mid-2000s, had about 900 to 1,000 square feet of space per attorney in their office, costing about $50,000 per attorney per year. Currently, average square foot per attorney has dropped to 700 to 800 square foot with firms paying about $45,000 per attorney.
Lindquist is not the only Twin Cities law firm that plans to change its office space. Stinson Leonard Street, one of Minnesota’s largest law firms, will move from the Fifth Street Towers to 50 South Sixth next October. It will downsize from 140,000 square feet to about 105,000, and the new office will also have more natural light, collaborative spaces and same-size offices for attorneys.
“What we’re seeing now is rapid change in the legal industry, a much more competitive environment and a lot of natural business forces that are causing firms to compete more in the future in the ways that we deliver services to our clients,” Mark Hinderks, Stinson Leonard Street managing partner, said.
Barnes and Thornburg, which has offices in Capella Tower, has plans to expand its space by more than 5,500 square feet on the 27th floor in January and add more collaborative work space as well as more space to host client events. The firm also plans to experiment with same-size offices for attorneys.
Best & Flanagan relocated its law office from Capella Tower to RBC Plaza last summer and at the same time reduced its footprint and moved to same-size offices. While there was some pushback initially from some who had to be convinced that smaller and more equal offices were the way to go, feedback over the last year from staff has been positive, said Sarah Crippen, the firm’s managing partner.
“We wanted to get away from the big corner office or the idea that the trappings of the office denoted status … There’s an openness about the office now that has our staff working better together,” she said.
The legal profession has been slower at adapting its work spaces compared to some other professional services, said Mark Hamel, partner and real estate and land use practice group head at Dorsey and Whitney. The legal field is known for its appreciation of precedent and history and being resistant to radical change including to the office hierarchy, he said. “One of the perks of becoming a partner is that you got to move to a larger-size office,” Hamel said.
Now, a large office isn’t needed when lawyers shuffle way less paper and may tend to host clients more in conference rooms, he said. “You pay for every square foot you have, so if you can trim square feet you can trim cost savings. That continues for as long as you stay in the place,” Hamel said.