IBA Conference: Law firms’ offices need to take account of millennials’ priorities, says top architect

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Successful spaces will be designed to offer ‘lifestyle’ not just a place to work

Law firm office
Steven Martin pictured with a law firm’s ‘collaboration space’

The aspirations and values of the next generation of lawyers is an important disruptor for law firms and needs to be considered in any “officing” strategy, according to a top architect.

Steven Martin (pictured), who has designed offices spaces for the likes of Dentons and DLA Piper, was speaking in a session today at the International Bar Association (IBA) annual conference being held in Rome this week.

Martin, an architect at San Francisco-based design outfit, Gensler, explained that office space strategies need to take on board a number of disruptions in the legal market. He said that this is about not only escalating property costs (London has the second highest cost at £151 per metre, according to Martin) and increasing technological advances, but also new generational lifestyles and values and what he calls the “co-working phenomenon”, epitomised by shared spaces such as We Work. He told the audience:

“What we need to build in is that millennials are looking for mentorship, engagement with colleagues, a quite place to do focused work, and access to latest technologies.”

Law firms should be thinking about a variety of work settings, argues Martin, such as spaces where people can “work alone together”, “collaboration spaces”, cafe-style spaces, taking inspiration from hotels with “concierges”.

Beyond this, Martin predicts that work spaces are going to be more about promoting a type of lifestyle as much as about being simply places to work: reflecting on the phenomenal success of the We Work brand, all large, black-framed windows, groovy lighting, and proper coffee, Martin says:

“The most successful workplaces will be designed to offer more than space, they will promote a lifestyle — that is what co-working spaces are doing.”

He predicts more amenities such as free, healthy snacks and paradoxically, beer on tap, facilities such as US diner-style booths to hang out in, games rooms, golf simulation stations and mothers’ rooms.

Law firms will also, of course, see the potential cost savings that can be made by thinking more about the changes in their workforce. For instance, Martin reveals that lawyers are at their desks only 60-70% of the time (though it probably feels like a lot more than that to most associates), which means hot-desking and less fixed spaces will be both useful and cost-effective.

Polly Botsford will be reporting all week from the International Bar Association’s annual conference in Rome.

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Millennials priorities are job security and a living wage!




This is becoming spam now



It was since the first post. Just report them, they usually disappear then.



Just like how dissidents were silenced in Soviet Russia



Yes, communists often clicked a button on the heads of suspected dissidents causing them to disappear and reappear in a Siberian gulag.


Sleep/sex pods and the junior staff will be kept pleased.

I like to shit in a nice toilet too.


An Millenial

I need a safe space to eat my avocado on toast while having my gender identity (whatever it may be today) respected and being protected from controversial non-Woke world views (except Islam because that would be Islamophobic) *upward inflection*.

Like, Drynites changing facilities would also be helpful…*upward inflection*.



I can’t go at work, too much pressure.



Develop an addiction to Football Manager and you’ll be fine.


Cherno Samba

Great idea.


Kennedy Bakircioglu


To Madeira

I agree.

If you know, you know

Move along, nothing to see here



Law firms will pull off any gimmick to impress prospective employees except offering decent work hours and wages


Get out of the break out room Steve, do your amazon shopping at your desk!

No one actually likes hot desking, or shared co-working spaces, people just have to put up with them, as some Senior Partner has been sold a fancy office fit out by people like Mr Martin. Firms also tend to use this “modern way of working rubbish” as an excuse to slash office sq m’s, save money on rent, and push up the PEP.

However, that may be because law firms tend to do the whole process on the cheap.

People would probably love hot desking and flexible spaces if law firms were willing to spend the money on facilities that big tech companies like Google and Facebook do.
Google has a free bar in the Dublin office…

If you are going to have a hot desk you need to have enough of them and make sure that they are well equipped and not just a load of blank tables crammed into a corner. As for break out rooms, enough need to be provided so that one is available when you actually need it, a client does not appreciate it when you cant talk to them as you are in an open office and all the rooms have been monopolised by people who are fed up sitting in the open being distracted by everyone else . Additional facilities like gyms and canteens are the preserve of the magic circle and most normal firms just don’t consider them, I once worked for a firm who placed a table-football table in the staff kitchen and championed it as if this was a revolutionary staff perk.

If you do modern working, do it right, or go back to individual offices and cubicles, I think people underestimate how much work is done by solicitors when they are free to concentrate.

As a side point – I don’t think mentioning Denton’s office fit out is a good sales tactic. Remember this is the firm still proudly advertising that they reside in the “Best office of 1995” and but the look of the place it hasn’t developed much since then.



Blindly assuming that all millenials like open plan offices is moronic. Just because I’m in the same generation as someone, doesn’t mean I work in the same way as them.



There is a load of guff spouted by people with an agenda (i.e. something to sell) as to what millennials *want* in an office space.

Here’s a newsflash for them, though they already know this: OPEN PLAN IS UNIVERSALLY UNPOPULAR.

Yet will anything be done about this? No, as open-plan offices are cheaper to build and run.

Not only are they unpopular, they actually reduce the productivity of people like me, who find it a lot more difficult to concentrate when I’m in a big room with noise coming from other workers.

But please everyone don’t blame architects. This guy is just a snake oil salesman who has cottoned on to the fact his “oh but millennials love it” guff is an easy sell to business executives who want to mask their cost-cutting with bullshit hipster marketing.


Cloistered Colin

I agree that open plan offices are universally unpopular.

May I add to this that I do not like open plan trains either.

I am in my 30s and remember well that until about 10 years ago London and the South East was dominated by trains that were ancient and clapped out but ultimately comfortable- they had COMPARTMENTS for both standard and first class.

Bring back the proper office and the railway compartment, I say!



Poland still has some of those delightful trains. Lovely.


A £120k trust paying at 10% with a £120k trust fund paying at 10%

It also has an average yearly wage of barely £12k atm.

Would you like that in the U.K.??????



Yeah as cost of living is low and their women are mint


I only ever got with one Polish woman. She was very dry. I’m not talking about her sense of humour.


That’s your fault mate not hers.


I have never had that problem with other women. I have had sex with 47 women. I’m 9 out of 10 attractive. The statistics say otherwise.


Who provides the feedback in surveys like these? No one I know likes open plan.


Alex = fAiL

OTOH Alex has a Durham degree and is stillliving in his mUmSy’S gArAgE aged almost 50



Some people do, but it tends to be creative professions where collaboration is constant and necessary.

Professions where you need to click through documents, write, and concentrate for prolonged periods, i.e. the majority of the country, less so.






I detest open plan. Constant interruptions, no privacy etc…and I am a millennial.



One of the main reasons I chose the Bar over becoming a solicitor was the fact that many chambers give you your own office, or at worst sharing with one or two others in a civilised office setup.

But I see now even some sets are changing to open plan. Usually the sort of sets that like to position themselves as ‘modern’ and ‘innovative’ and have some new-fangled ‘chambers director’ type.

Glad I gave those sets a wide berth. I mean, the whole thing about open plan is that it isn’t conducive to concentration. And there are few jobs which require prolonged periods of concentration on difficult problems more than a barrister.



Forgot to say that the true evil, even worse than open plan, is hot desking. Hot desking shows an enormous lack of respect to your employees and dehumanises them. It’s two grubby fingers stuck up to all your workers who at the very least deserve a constant desk where they can leave their books, stationery, and maybe even pictures of their family if you want to open your mind a bit and realise they aren’t just production line drones.


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