70% of Large Law Firm Leases Listed as Contractions in Chicago Since 2016

Large law firms in Chicago continue to contract their space as new workplace strategies allow for more efficiencies, and, provide firms the opportunity to attract new talent with more appealing and innovative layouts and designs, according to a recent report from CBRE.

Law firms, especially those requiring 75,000 square feet or more, continue to increase efficiency by reducing square-footage per attorney when opportunities arise. In the past 24 months in Chicago, approximately 70 percent of these large law firms have contracted their space when completing a lease transaction. Currently, the 25 largest law firms by square footage in Chicago average 800 square feet per attorney. As the downsizing trend continues, firms are aiming to achieve 550-650 square feet.

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“Law firms are continuing to drive for efficiency with their space and we don’t see this trend changing anytime soon,” said Todd Lippman, vice chairman with CBRE and member of the firm’s Law Firm Practice Group. “As more law firms see the benefits of adopting new workplace strategies, both for financial and functional purposes, the square footage per attorney will continue to decrease and firms will be able to do more with less space.”

Many of these changes in the legal sector are a result of advances in technology and the attempt to recruit new talent in a very competitive environment.

Some of more common strategies being adopted or considered by law firms include:

  • Putting less emphasis on grand, ceremonial client spaces and more emphasis on functional meeting spaces.
  • Ratio of secretaries to attorneys change from four-to-one to 10-to-one.
  • Orienting the reception area around hospitality, with concierge services and hosted events.
  • Transitioning cafeteria space from merely a place to eat to a place to socialize, in a prominent area along a window line.
  • Creating smaller, on-demand meeting rooms with interactive technology scattered throughout the practice area.
  • Decentralizing support staff to disperse them throughout the office and fill out the interior space.

Chicago remains the fourth-largest legal sector in the country, with approximately 40,000 law firm employees. The Central Loop area is home to 50 percent of legal workers, with 31.6 percent in the West Loop, the second-largest submarket.

Read the entire report here.

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