US law firms are reducing office space for telecommuting

As U.S. law firms continue to navigate a pandemic-era shift toward remote and hybrid work, the firm said, Davis-Wright Tremaine has moved to a new space in San Francisco that has reduced its presence in the city by 40%.

Davis Wright said the new office will accommodate both hybrid, technology-enabled and forward-looking work. The 600-strong Seattle-based law firm now has more than 50 lawyers in San Francisco, after adding 11 there in the past two years. The company has grown from nearly 34,000 square feet of office space to just under 20,000, according to a spokesperson.

The new location has a mix of dedicated, one-size-fits-all office space and hotel space, said Geoff Bosley, partner in charge of the office, leaving room for the company to expand. “If there was anything positive about going through design and construction in this time period,” he said, “it was that we were really able to make decisions that allowed for the most flexibility for the lawyers.”

Moving to one-size-fits-all offices is new for the company in San Francisco, Bosley said, but its offices in Seattle, New York and elsewhere have already made the switch.

One of the highest expenses for law firms is office rents, which are now also dealing with higher expenses after big headcount increases last year. Bosley said that while there were savings associated with transferring Davis-Wright, cost was only one factor.

Major law firms have been reducing the number of square feet per attorney for years, including by adopting standardized office sizes. This trend has accelerated since the pandemic prompted many of America’s largest companies to embrace a long-term mix of in-person and remote work.

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Other large law firms are also shrinking their footprints in key markets, even as the pandemic wanes and more lawyers return to full or part-time work in the office.

Shearman & Sterling recently completed a remodeling of its Manhattan headquarters, which saw the company reduce its office space by more than 184,000 square feet, according to a statement from Arsha Cazazian-Clement, the company’s global real estate president. The New York company said in an announcement last week that the redevelopment, chosen before the pandemic, reduces carbon emissions and helps meet its environmental, social and governance goals.

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