The Evolution of Law Firms & Their Offices: Part 2

Dustin Staiger

When Jeff Lesk and his team of lawyers at Nixon-Peabody in Washington D.C. were looking for a new office space, they decided to shake things up a bit. In the lawyer world, that doesn’t happen very often. What resulted was a complete overhaul of the way law offices approach corporate space across the country.


Before the digital ink even had a chance to dry on our first story about The Evolution of Law Firms & Their OfficesWork Design Magazine confirmed findings from Steelcase’s in-depth study of law offices and how they’re growing. Where we focused on those findings in Texas, Work Design’s Natalie Grasso confirmed similar trends throughout the United States.

For example, the generational trend we discovered in the Texas State Bar’s Research and Analysis from 2015 has been confirmed all throughout the United States. The number of talented millennials growing into leadership roles in law offices both in Texas and nationwide is growing. In Texas specifically, the last decade has seen a 26% growth in the number of attorneys.

In certain portions of Texas, attorney growth rates are reaching as high as 45%. This means the large influx of new, young lawyers is also going to usher in new, efficient ideas that optimize the modern law office. As this generational shift continues to take place, more and more law firms are going to set course for what Nixon-Peabody accomplished in Washington DC.


Showcasing Lesk’s new initiatives for Nixon-Peabody, Grasso outlined the cultural changes taking place in the mindset the law firm uses regarding their office space. Rather than focusing on who gets the bigger, corner office or creating areas that isolate workers, NP turned corner offices into common areas where lawyers, paralegals, and secretaries are all encouraged to congregate over coffee or collaborate on cases.

To improve lighting while saving on electricity costs, NP utilized natural lighting by making the staircase at the center of their offices act as a light well. The staircase takes in and disperses outdoor light to give their office a naturally beautiful appearance while saving money that otherwise would have been spent on headache-inducing fluorescent lighting.


By digitizing most of their legal resources, NP eliminated three decades’ worth of paper and found they actually had excess space that was unnecessary. Their new office helped them save money on real estate and paper costs. Law firm design expert, Catherine Heath, recently sat on a panel at Nixon-Peabody to discuss the motives behind the changes made to NP’s offices.

“For lawyers, evidence-based design matters,” said Heath, “There are a lot of big changes happening right now; there’s fear around doing something different.” But rather than being held back by the fear of change within law offices, Heath and Lesk used their colleague’s concerns to inform the changes they made. They also emphasized the pragmatism of their office update. “Change isn’t about the ‘beauty of the workspace,” Lesk said, “We’re running a business and it’s still about the bottom line.”


And how was their bottom line impacted? Nixon-Peabody saved 1/3 of their costs on real estate, 1/3 of their costs on lighting, and 1/3 of their costs on natural/other resources (such as paper). The combined savings and improved culture in this one firm point to several opportunities for Texas law firms.

If firms in areas like Washington DC are seeing impressive yet not-as-impressive-as-Texas growth in the number of attorneys, then top law firms in large metropolitan Texas areas are soon to surpass the rest of the nation in growth – and in needing innovative workspaces.