Do You Even Need Traditional Office Space?

Law firm office spaceBefore COVID-19, the topic of office space was one that many law firms had to consider long and hard. Many law firms had to consider what size space to get, what location, and what least terms.  Many law firms also had to consider whether they wanted to personally guarantee office space, whether they wanted to sign a triple net lease, or what kind of furniture to purchase. The location of the office space could also make a difference.

However, given the current pandemic, many law firms must ask whether they need traditional office space. With many employees working from home during the pandemic, the trajectory has changed in many respects. Instead of a brick and mortar location, the situation has changed significantly.

More Law Firm Employees Working From Home

Many law firms are having all or most of their employees work from home. Many lawyers and law firms engage in virtual meetings with their clients and potential clients through video or phone conference. Face-to-face meetings are just not necessary and perhaps not safe.

There might be a time where the need for traditional office space comes back. Once the COVID-19 pandemic lets up through vaccines, traditional office space may become vital again. However, some can argue that the COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed the need for traditional office space. Many have made better use of video or phone conference software.  Many might be leery of meeting others face-to-face for some time to come.

COVID-19 has also hurt many law firms. With access to the courts more limited and with many individuals hurting in the economy, many potential clients and clients have less ability to pay for legal services than before. This is not universally true, but the reality is most law firms have been impacted in some way right now. The pandemic has also blown up many law firms’ budgets.

Factors Law Firms Should Consider With Office Space

If you are a law firm owner, here are some questions that you might want to consider:

  • Do you even need traditional office space right now? Or might you be able to get some shared workspace or non-traditional workspace at present?  Some companies rent serviced offices, virtual offices, or co-working space. The use of this kind of space could be temporary during the pandemic or something that could work long-term.
  • If you have a large law firm and you are not a solo practitioner, and you need traditional office space, might you be able to consolidate your office? In other words, if you have more than one office in an area, might it make sense to close down the least productive spaces and consolidate them with the most productive offices?
  • If you need traditional office space, and your lease is ending, maybe it is time to downsize right now? With so many employees working from home, it might be that you could get smaller space since so many are working from home versus paying for empty offices.
  • Do you really want to guarantee office space right now personally? Given the pandemic, it might be time to sign a lease in the name of your law firm’s LLC, LLP, or whatever entity was created and decline to sign a personal guarantee.
  • Do you really want to sign a triple net lease? With the state of the economy and the pandemic, it might not be the time to sign-on to a lease with variable expenses like a triple net lease contains. It might be time to sign a lease with a fixed rent.
  • While a lease with offices built-in used to have value for a law firm, the kind of lease many lawyers and law firms may want will contain large conference rooms where you can meet with clients and potential clients while social distancing six-feet apart.
  • Instead of locking in long-term for a lease, maybe it is time to sign a short-term lease based purely on your present financial circumstances. In the past, it might have been easier to forecast how your law firm would do years into the future. However, right now, it is hard to predict much of anything. To get a short-term lease, law firms should look for office space that is turnkey versus office space that has to be retrofitted.

Regardless of the situation, COVID-19 should get most lawyers and law firms thinking about their office space from a different perspective. All the factors that applied before COVID-19 do not necessarily apply now. Further, some of the important considerations before are even more important now — like not overpaying for office space or agreeing to unfavorable lease terms.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.

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