Evolving Lawscape: Applying Design Thinking to a Hybrid Legal Sector

The Perkins Eastman Design Strategy team shares how to create environments for hybrid law firms.

The legal profession is at a crossroads. Since March 2020, law firms have innovated and adapted to survive. Now, they are grappling with the prospect of permanent hybrid work: How can firms effectively train and mentor young associates, uphold a healthy firm culture, keep their talent engaged and motivated, and maintain the highest quality of work while providing the flexibility that employees now demand?

1. Empathize

Use surveys, workshops, and interviews to understand employees’ needs, desires, expectations, and concerns. Work together to identify project goals and create a vision for the future. Ensure employees are heard and included in the decision-making process, including changes to the physical office environment and workplace policies.

Step into the clients’ shoes. What do they need and expect? What are their concerns?

2. Define

Define your objectives. Identify challenges, opportunities, and potential pain points for different individuals and groups. It may be useful to create detailed profiles based on employee work styles and preferences, commute time, and other relevant factors.

Get granular about needs, expectations, and priorities. If employees want flexibility, what exactly does that mean? How many days per week do they want to work from home versus in the office? How important is it to have a dedicated individual office for each attorney?

3. Ideate

Consider the possibilities. Based on employee feedback and other data collected in the initial phase, generate potential solutions. For example, is desk-sharing an option for attorneys who choose to work remotely more than two days per week? What if a portion of private offices are traded for amenities like meeting rooms and multi-purpose event spaces?

4. Prototype

Allocate resources according to priorities and best use. If employees are doing more of their focused work at home, and coming to the office to meet with clients or collaborate with colleagues, what types of spaces and associated tools are required for these uses? What confidentiality concerns must be addressed? How might private offices be redesigned or reduced?

Consider experimenting with Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality tools to gather feedback from attorneys and staff on potential designs before testing.

5. Test

Establish metrics for success. Evaluate the effectiveness of design solutions based on established metrics. Adapt design solutions as needed to maximize satisfaction with space.

Would pre- and post-occupancy surveys and observation provide insight into what is working well and what needs to be improved upon? Would collecting data on how people use the space support future design decisions? Using sensors and app-based booking systems, employers can track, record, and optimize space utilization.

– Check out WDM’s Desk Reservation guide here –

At this pivotal time, law firms have an opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of the past and carry forward positive changes. The law office of the future may look different. Still, it will continue to play an essential role as a recruitment tool, a collaboration hub, a place to mentor and develop rising associates, and a physical expression of a firm’s brand and reputation. Design thinking can help all firms to arrive at creative solutions tailored to their employees, clients, and business objectives. As we work towards finding flexible solutions that future-proof our office environments, a structured human-centered approach will help firms to understand employee and client needs, ultimately securing their competitive edge in a quickly evolving landscape.

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