Rich, dark wood; plush carpet and furniture; large libraries filled with beautifully bound legal tomes; private offices reserved for partners; distinguished dining spaces with uniformed waiters; and leather-chaired conference rooms are among the stereotypical images of the offices of law firms. While some firms continue to reside in these traditional bastions of the law, increasing competition for talent, a drive for efficiency and cost management, the need for branding that reflects the client base, and the influence of a more-casual generation of partners have brought about a serious re-thinking of the legal work environment.

Dorsey Whitney’s new lobby/reception area is light and airy capturing magnificent views of Elliott Bay, the city skyline as well as the Cascade Mountains.

Today’s law firms are moving toward the same workspace profiles originated by high-tech and creative sector organizations, but now the norm across industries. Common in these environments are open-concept offices in cool downtown locations; smaller, low-walled cubicles or bench seating; high, unfinished ceilings; floor-to-ceiling windows that conduct natural light; collaborative spaces that encourage interaction and engagement; large lunchrooms, gathering and break spaces; and outdoor decks for socializing or client events. When the financial and business considerations support it, leasing premium space in a new building or absorbing the cost of a complete update of an existing location are preferable as the reduced footprint, higher efficiency and image boost gained offset the funds expended. The most desirable and talented law professionals are no longer focused solely on high compensation; they want to work in a place that both stimulates their mind and communicates the firm’s acknowledgement of their importance as an employee.

This shift in law firm occupancy strategy is happening in markets across the globe, not just in the Puget Sound. The strong economy has fueled expansion in many industries, creating competition and challenges to finding the optimal space in the best location, however. The booming markets of Seattle and Bellevue, for example, have produced major limitations on space in all property types in desirable submarkets and locations near courthouses or transportation hubs. Law firms with short relocation timeframes have even fewer options as most space is now geared toward less-dense occupancy plans.


Dorsey Whitney’s state-of-the-art conferencing center is an open/connected, multi-functional space designed to cater to client and firm functions.

To ensure your real estate meets your current and future operational needs, realizes the benefits the advances in technology provide, accurately conveys your firm’s brand and philosophy, positions you to compete for the optimal talent, and enables maximum productivity and client service, talk to a real estate professional who specializes in law firms. And start early so your firm has plenty of time to understand what you need, how much you can spend and what areas serve your purpose and people best. Then you can explore the market at your pace until you find a place that sets your up for long-term success.

For more information on law firms in the current real estate market environment, check out Colliers International’s 2018 North America Outlook Report here.




Tony Ford is an Executive Vice President at Colliers International, a global real estate services and investment management company. He focuses on tenant representation in the Puget Sound Region, with a specialization in real estate solutions for the legal industry.