Future legal workplace: charting a fresh path in hybrid world

At a time when the legal sector is gearing up for a return to the office, the intersection of space, technology and culture is creating opportunities for redesign. New research highlights key areas of change for law firms across three super regions

The legal workplace has been experiencing disruption for the past decade. Today, as it plans a return to the office, the industry finds itself at the epicentre of an increasingly competitive global landscape in which the physical, social and technological frameworks it is built upon are being forced under the microscope.

Before the pandemic, there was evidence of an appetite among law firms to modernise their spaces and work differently, but Covid-19 has acted as a catalyst to turbocharge the shifts that were already occurring within the legal workplace. Now, there are key opportunities to reimagine the future of the legal workplace and chart a fresh path to growth and innovation.

Fundamental shifts

A new research report, ‘The Future Legal Workplace: Designing for resilience in the legal sector’, explores the fundamental shifts and challenges that are occurring in the sector today on a global scale.

Produced by BVN Architects, WORKTECH Academy and Cushman & Wakefield, the report identifies the disruptors in the industry both before and during the pandemic and critiques these shifts from the perspective of three super regions: EMEA, Australia and North America. It presents four new spatial typologies to design the legal workspace based on the most prominent challenges occurring across all three regions.

The research draws on a mix of academic literature, practice reports and a series of round tables with legal experts from North America, EMEA and Australia to explore how prominent leaders in law firms are adjusting to significant change and what spaces they will need to be agile and resilient in the future.

Decision makers in law

The expert panel of legal experts comprised partners and decision-makers from 21 international leading law firms. Two are ranked amongst the 10 largest law firms in the world and more than half have more than 1,500 employees working across more than 20 countries. The Australia round tables included four Australia-based firms, the EMEA round table included eight European-based firms, and there were 12 North American-based firms in the North American round table.

The overall intention of the report is to inform a new and different perspective on the future of the legal workplace through a global lens. The research calls into question four key areas:

  • The function of the legal workplace
  • The approach to talent attraction and retention
  • Technology as a major disruptor to the industry
  • Challenging culture in the sector

The report marks a contribution to the debate about change in the legal sector at a critical point of workplace transformation across the world. It gives an indication of regional disparities in the sector, and the spatial typologies it describes highlight opportunities to close the gap between those disparities. As the legal sector becomes more dynamic and responsive to change, the potential for workplace innovation is greater.

Four models for resilience

While law firms have generally adapted very well to the shift to remote working during the pandemic, there is still a strong appetite to return to the office – but not the office as they once knew it. Critical changes to space, culture and technology need to be made to adjust to the new demands of the workforce.

The spatial typologies proposed in the report address four new models:

The Magnet – this model explore the ideas of the workplace as a social setting for client meetings and open collaboration.

The Matrix – this model describes a setting in which lawyers work with, not against, emerging technologies to streamline legal processes.

The Mutual – this model explores the angle that office density will reduce as a result of the pandemic, therefore the office can be more permeable and flexible, and partnerships can be formed with external services and educational institutions.

The Mentor – this model describes a workspace used as a tool to create learning environments and mentorship programs to evolve the discipline and create a culture of ‘on-demand learning’.

These spatial typologies are not mutually exclusive, and they share common traits to support lawyers and non-legal employees in the future.

In this period of constant flux, firms must be able to pivot, using change to their advantage, rather than losing control and seeing it impact negatively on their business. This report outlines an opportunity for the legal workplace to reimagine the workflow of employees to create environments which are optimal for increased collaboration across different teams, while also balancing the need for individual learning and focused work.

‘The Future Legal Workplace: Designing for resilience in law firms’ was launched on 21 April 2021. The report was written and published by WORKTECH Academy, BVN Architects, and Cushman and Wakefield. Download the report here.
Find exclusive content in the


Premium content for Global Partners, Corporate and Community Members.
The latest analysis and commentary on the future of work and workplace in five distinct themes: Research & Insights, Case Studies, Expert Interviews, Trend Publications, and Technology Guides.