The City

Four models for the 21st century legal workplace

Change is nothing new for the legal profession, but the pandemic has accelerated the transformation of the workplace. Kasia Maynard discusses a new report with a global focus that offers four new models for the post-COVID-19 office and beyond.


The legal workplace has been experiencing disruption for the past decade.

Today, the industry finds itself at the epicentre of an increasingly competitive global landscape in which the physical, social and technological frameworks it's built upon are being forced under the microscope.

Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there was evidence of an appetite among law firms to modernise their spaces and work differently; COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst to turbocharge the shifts that were already occurring.

Now, there are key opportunities to reimagine the future of the legal workplace and chart a fresh path to growth and innovation.

Fundamental shifts

A recent research report, the Future Legal Workplace: Designing for resilience in the legal sector, explores the fundamental shifts and challenges that are occurring in the sector today on a global scale.

Produced by BVN Architects, WORKTECH Academy and Cushman & Wakefield, the report identifies the disruptors in the industry both before and during the pandemic and critiques these shifts from the perspective of three ‘super regions’:

  • EMEA
  • Australia
  • North America

The report concludes with four design models to enable law firms to be resilient to future disruption.

These design models (coined ‘spatial typologies’ in the report) respond to the most prominent challenges and shifts occurring across all three regions, from talent acquisition to interdisciplinary team interactions.

The research draws on a mix of academic literature, practice reports and a series of roundtables with partners and decision-makers from 21 international leading law firms.

It explores how prominent leaders in law firms are adjusting to significant change and what spaces they will need to be agile and resilient in the future.

The overall intention of the report is to inform a new and unique perspective on the future of the legal workplace design and strategy through a global lens.

The research calls into question four key areas:

  • the function of the legal workplace
  • the approach to talent attraction and retention
  • technology as a major disruptor to the industry
  • challenging culture in the sector

Changing talent

One of the major shifts occurring throughout the industry is the approach to talent acquisition and retention.

Legal practice has traditionally depended on its prestige and reputation to attract the best talent, but the report identifies a shift in the type of talent required and a change in demand.

While legal talent remains a critical skill in a law firm, the emphasis towards technology and digital talent is increasing.

In turn, this is creating a movement towards more interdisciplinary teams within the legal workplace, which will require a series of different work environments. Legal firms now need to survey the needs of different types of workers and provide a range of spaces for teams and individuals to conduct their best work.

Four models for resilience

While law firms have generally adapted very well to the shift to remote working during the pandemic, there is still a strong appetite to return to the office – but not the office as they once knew it.

Critical changes to space, culture and technology need to be made to adjust to the new demands of the workforce.

Four new models are proposed:

These models are not mutually exclusive, and they share common traits to support lawyers and non-legal employees in the future.

The path forward

In this period of constant flux, law firms must be able to pivot, using change to their advantage, rather than losing control and seeing it impact negatively on their business.

This report outlines an opportunity for the legal workplace to reimagine the workflow of employees, to create environments which are optimal for increased collaboration across different teams, while also balancing the need for individual learning and focused work.

The themes in the report were captured over a period of 10 months from May 2020 to March 2021, but the conversation is far from over.

As firms across the world continue to return to the office, the legal workplace will have to be dynamic and resilient to sudden change.

WORKTECH Academy welcomes the opportunity to continue the discussion with thought-leaders in the legal industry and expand on the findings of the report as we return to the office.


Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

Read the first report from the Future Worlds 2050 project

The future of how and where we work is just one of the themes being explored in the Law Society’s foresight programme.

The first report of the Future Worlds 2050 project focuses on the emerging themes that look likely to dominate and affect the law, the legal profession and society over the next decade, including geopolitical dynamics, emerging technologies and climate change.

If you’d like to know more about our foresight work, email Dr Tara Chittenden.

Download the Future Legal Workspace report

Future Legal Workplace: Designing for resilience in the legal sector (PDF 9.7 MB)

Contact WORKTECH Academy

Get in touch with WORKTECH Academy if you're looking to update your workplace strategy or would like further information on the findings from the legal workplace report.

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