U.S. Law Firms Reduce Office Space as Hybrid Work Increases

Now grappling with higher expenses after sweeping raises for associate last year, while still trying to navigate the post-pandemic shift to remote and hybrid work, many law firms are targeting office leases as a prime area to cut costs.

For instance, the Seattle-based, 600-lawyer Davis Wright Tremaine recently moved its San Francisco office to a new space that cuts its footprint in the city by 40%.

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The new office space allows for technology-enabled hybrid work and will also being able to accommodate the firm’s future hires. It has a mix of dedicated single-size offices and hoteling space, which leaves the firm room to expand, said partner-in-charge Jeff Bosley.

After adding 11 lawyers in San Francisco over the past two years, Davis Wright now has more than 50 lawyers in the city.

According to a spokesperson, the firm moved from nearly 34,000 square feet of office space to just under 20,000.

"If there was any positive of going through design and build-out in this period of time, it's that we were able to really make choices that allow maximum flexibility for lawyers," Bosley said.

For years, big law firms have been reducing the number of square feet per lawyer, but the pandemic accelerated the trend dramatically as many of the largest U.S. firms adopted a long-term mix of in-person and remote work.

Many other big law firms are also cutting their office space in major cities. Shearman & Sterling recently redesigned its headquarters in Manhattan, shrinking its office footprint by more than 184,000 square feet, which reduces its carbon footprint and aids its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. Meanwhile, in the next five years, Philadelphia-based Duane Morris plans to reduce its office footprint by 20%.

However, not all firms are reducing their office space. In August, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer announced it had signed a lease for a larger office in New York to accommodate its growth in the city, and in 2021 Barnes & Thornburg signed a lease to triple the size of its New York space.