Law firms making smart office changes to drive bottom line

by NZ Lawyer05 Feb 2014
New Zealand’s top tier legal firms are increasingly using their office properties more efficiently to drive profit and support better internal structures, according to CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm.

Lindsay Jackson, associate director of CBRE New Zealand, says he’s seen several examples of law firms moving or renovating their offices to take up less floor space, but in better quality premises.

“Generally speaking, law firms have unique characteristics in their office preferences, and there are some fascinating shifts underway with regards to what the sector is doing with property,” said Jackson.

CBRE’s research shows a drop in demand for office space from the legal sector, which Jackson believes is a result of the industry making more efficient use of space.

The company’s second quarter research for 2013 shows that the top six law firms in Auckland are all in premium grade offices and that the overwhelming majority of practices are in the core CBD area.

Proportionally, the largest premium space occupiers in Auckland are law firms, with Russell McVeigh, Simpson Grierson and Bell Gully being the top three, each occupying around 6,000sqm of best-quality office space.
Jackson says that as more companies start to implement modern working practices like ‘hot desking’, open plan offices and job sharing, legal property requirements are seeing smarter use of floor plates and some are already seeing an increase to their bottom line - despite higher rents from their premium space.

“It’s about being lean and mean, but by basing their operations in some of Auckland’s highest quality, premium office buildings, law firms are realising the potential that a well-thought out property strategy can have across entire business lines.”

Jackson points to Chapman Tripp as an example of a firm completely restructuring its working environment. The firm’s Christchurch-based branch relocated into an office half the space they used to occupy, with similar numbers of people on board.

Chapman Tripp dropped a whole floor, cutting down dramatically on their square meters. You might think this would cause a revolt within the team, but in fact quite the opposite is true, said Jackson.

“Chapman Tripp always sees itself in the top levels of premium buildings – and they are still doing that, but now the firm is making better use of its property through doing things like utilising more open plan space, taking up fewer offices and generally adopting a more modern working practice. The firm is using breakout rooms, making better use of technology, and the team is happier and working better as a result of the property change.”

Phil Creagh, director of law firm Anderson Creagh Lai, says that location, profile, overheads and the desired organisational culture should all be taken into account when structuring a property strategy that supports and accelerates business growth. Creagh worked with Jackson to find a new office space for the firm after it outgrew its previous office and says the introduction of open plan offices in the legal sector faced resistance for a long time.

“We saw our premises and location as being able to convey a point of difference. The premises at 110 Customs St West were quite new, well-constructed of quality materials, seemed to have very good services and above all were in an amazing location close to everything we and our clients value.  The views were fantastic - and anywhere that is only 20 metres away from an Irish pub can’t be all bad.”

Creagh says imperative issues to the legal profession such as client confidentiality have been addressed in Anderson Creagh Lai’s new open plan environment by using sound-proofed breakout rooms and fully-equipped private telephone rooms:

“Our clients really value the opportunity to be able to use the breakout and telephone rooms as part of the benefits and experience of working with us. Looking back, now that we have been in the new space for a few months, there is nothing really that we would change. Clients love the new feel of the place and seem to particularly like seeing all the lawyers together in one team environment. We haven’t had one adverse comment.”



  • by Open-plan supporter 28/01/2014 2:53:05 p.m.

    Our office is open-plan and I find it allows for a much more dynamic, inclusive working environment. So long as you have enough space set aside for planned and impromptu private conversations, there shouldn't be any issues with confidentiality.