What Do Office Cubes in New York Mean for Law Firm Associates?

What Do Office Cubes in New York Mean for Law Firm Associates?

It’s a rare occurrence when a large law firm does something revolutionary when it comes to conducting its business. However, it is very likely that Paul Hastings LLP is about to navigate through the unknown when it shifts its New York offices this spring.

In Paul Hastings LLP’s recent midtown Manhattan space, junior attorneys will not receive the offices they probably had hoped for during their time in law school. Their alternative will be that they will be getting a cubicle in an open space.

This change will only impact first- and second-year associates, who will be working in pods of 12 people in prime window-lined real estate on the ends of floors. Currently, the institution is calling them the “end zones.”

According to the article “Lawyer Cubicles Are Coming to New York” by Sara Randazzo of The Wall Street Journal, Barry Brooks, the chair of the New York City office, believes that law associates will gain insight through this highly collaborative environment. Brooks does not feel guilty about this adjustment because it will force the employees to work off each other.

There have been doubts about confidentiality, but the lack of privacy will not be too much of an issue. It seems that the open areas will be cut off from the rest of the office by a glass wall. In addition, dividers will be present at the desks and will enforce some separation.

Apparently, architecture firms have strongly desired firms to make changes, such as using open space. Law firms have always been hesitant and tried not to stray from traditional norms. However, that has changed because of Paul Hastings LLP.

Steve Martin, a principal at Gensler, the architecture firm that thought of the New York office’s design, believes that the area will be pioneering. Martin indicated that firms in London consistently put their lawyers, even partners, in open areas.

A few smaller law firms in the United States have certainly dabbled with open floor plans. For instance, the California firm Best Best & Krieger LLP played with the idea of open space in 2012. The firm wanted to develop a more flexible work area for 15-lawyer offices in Ontario and Irvine. According to Jamie Zamoff, the law firm’s main officer, they had wanted attorneys moving carts with their belongings to whatever section was open that particular workday.

That did not really work out. The leaders of the firm discovered that people like habits and routine. Some individuals would find themselves cubicles while others snagged the small amount of offices.

Furthermore, law firms want methods that reduce expenses. Therefore, younger lawyers have been pushed around in other aspects, if not being assigned to a cubicle. After all, New York does have a rather costly real estate market and junior lawyers do normally share offices. Some firms have even gone as far as to shifting some of their attorneys to windowless offices.

Law firms have been gradually changing their office layout for years. It’s quite surprising that they have not been evolving more quickly because these law firms utilize great amounts of square footage per worker than just about any other field.

This design idea has great potential. Firms do want junior attorneys to have the strong sense of teamwork. Therefore, having this sort of office layout will further stimulate mentoring and collaboration. It’s very economical as well, as the reduced floor construction will save firms quite a bit of money.

However, there are some drawbacks to consider. Open space lined with cubicles can be very noisy. Having excessive noise usually distracts many individuals, and productivity will most likely decrease. Workers may not be satisfied with their personal performances, and it is not good to have unhappy employees.  According to the article “Are Open-Plan Office Spaces Good for Law Firms?” by Tim Baran of the Legal Productivity website, the close proximity can also contribute to the spread of illness, such as the flu or the common cold.

Two important questions that now need to be answered are as follows:

  1. Is the open office space a better alternative than the traditional setting?
  2. Will other law firms jump onboard with this atypical idea?

Time will tell. But Ken Rapp, a vice chairman at real estate firm CBRE, believes that many other law firms will most likely end up joining this trend that Paul Hastings has brought to everyone’s attention. Rapp has worked with some law firms (including Paul Hastings) and is confident that if one firm does something new in the legal industry, a couple more firms will follow.

Eventually, the rest will probably end up following suit, as well.




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