The Evolution of Law Firms & Their Offices

Dustin Staiger

1.2 million people work as lawyers in the United States. The majority of these legal professionals work in solo or small firms with fewer than six other lawyers. The number of large law firms, however, is growing. In fact, between 1980 and 2000, the number of firms with at least 100 lawyers doubled.

Regardless of size, the law world is progressing and evolving from the bottom up. To gauge the changes in the legal world, Steelcase conducted an in-depth study to examine the state of evolving law firms and what must be done to keep our nation’s lawyers most equipped. Whether you’re a lawyer interested in revamping your entire office or simply a fan of the USA show, “Suits,” it’s worth taking note of these new trends in the legal world.


The typical career journey of a lawyer has evolved. A young lawyer used to join a firm in hopes of working his or her way up to becoming partner. But as of 2010, 78% of associates leave law firms by their 5th year. Rather than sticking around for decades in hopes of someday having their name on the door, associates are interested in enjoying their careers now.

The Steelcase study found the following 5 main reasons lawyers leave their firms:

  1. The need for professional development
  2. Practice interests
  3. Money
  4. Environment
  5. Work/life balance.

What was once lauded as commendable, such as staying late and working 85 hours weeks, is now causing many young, talented lawyers to stay away from certain firms.


In order to meet the varying needs of their legal clients, lawyers have shifted how they handle their accounts. Clients need more and more specialists in each particular kind of case (corporate, contracts, civil, criminal, mergers & acquisitions, etc.). What used to be a one-on-one meeting between the client and his or her lawyer has become far more collaborative. Many times, a client will meet with an entire team of lawyers, each with a specialty that could influence his or her case.

“the shift from paper to technology has opened up office space and eliminated unnecessary tasks for assistants”

Another particular staple of the legal world up until now has been its utter dependence on paper. In traditional law offices, tiers of boxes filled with important client information stacked up in storage. The shift from paper to technology opened up office space and eliminated unnecessary tasks for assistants and paralegals, freeing them to help in other capacities. For example, each partner used to have one assistant all to him or herself. Now, more often than not, paralegals find themselves helping several of the partners and associates throughout the firm.


The new law office is venturing away from large partner offices with furniture allowances. Instead, standardized options are being presented that enable midsize law firms to adapt to their real estate affordably. Collaborative spaces with privacy are being incorporated to help clients meet with their legal teams without feeling claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Law libraries are serving more decorative purposes as 96% of legal research is taking place online.

The furniture needs of modern law offices are much different than those of the past. The darker woods and more gothic appearances are being replaced with progressive aesthetics that don’t sacrifice efficiency for comfort, or vice versa.

“Law libraries are serving more decorative purposes as 96% of legal research is taking place online.”

Law firms are also showing greater diversity, which should be reflected in their workspaces. In our home state of Texas, for example, the last 10 years have seen growth in the race, gender, and age demographics of attorneys. According the State Bar of Texas’ Department of Research and Analysis, the attorneys practicing law in Harris and Travis County span across all kinds of age groups and ethnicities. As the law firms continue to evolve, so will the physical appearance and layout of their offices.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Firms are seeing a generational shift, causing them to evolve in what they offer their new hires in the hunt for the best talent.
  2. The movement away from paper-dependence has opened up new space and influenced the dynamics of partner/associate/paralegal/assistant relationships.
  3. These shifts in how legal matters are executed will call for furniture and layouts that demonstrate a firm’s dedication to the clients of tomorrow, rather than those of yesterday.