Cartoon of seven people in suits and an eighth person taking off in a rocket suit for a blog post

The evolution of the modern law firm

When you picture life inside a law firm do you still picture a traditional atmosphere: large Partner offices (with the obligatory secretary right outside) and stressed, overworked Associates who’ve forgotten what their homes even look like? Suits, suits, and more suits? If so, you will be surprised by the changes in the firms of today.

Law firms are Darwinian in their nature; evolution is critical to their survival in today’s extremely competitive market.  Rising costs of real estate, staff retention and the attraction of top talent are among just a few of their struggles.  So how have law firms evolved to meet these challenges?

Combating the rising costs of doing business

Law firms, particularly those who operate in expensive cities, must keep an eye on ever rising costs.   

Once upon a time, firms believed that every lawyer needed their own office—which is a hugely expensive way to operate.  Firms today, however, are increasingly making better choices with their office space.  More frequently, firms are turning to open plan offices that foster more communication amongst staff, “hot-desking” so that everyone can work on whatever desk is available, and agile working/ serviced office alternatives like WeWork mean that firms can be fully operational without the massive overhead of a huge, permanent, office space.  So too, firms are increasingly providing options to work from home a day or two a week which again frees up desks.

Firms also are making use of the interim legal market as a way to alleviate pressure on their teams during busy periods or to bring on a particular skillset to assist their teams for a specific matter.  This allows staff the ability to find a better work/life balance, while alleviating the financial obligation of the firm that can come with hiring a permanent staff member.

Attracting and retaining staff

In today’s candidate short market, firms are also having to take on significant cultural shifts in order to not only attract high calibre candidates, but also to retain the staff they already have.  In fact, firms are now looking for ways to create a healthier work environment.  Wellness programs (like those employed by firms such as Reed Smith, Clifford Chance, Hogan Lovells, to name a few) that focus on stress reduction, work/life balance, fitness programs and mindfulness are increasingly becoming a permanent part of the legal landscape.

Career development, mentoring and engagement programs are further tools that many top firms are applying.  These programs are useful in the attraction of new staff, but have the added benefit of boosting staff retention rates and turning staff into brand ambassadors for new recruits.

Firms are also embracing a more flexible approach that allows their lawyers to retain more autonomy.  Such initiatives can be as simple as abandoning a strict dress code and allowing staff to “dress for their day” (including even wearing blue jeans Monday to Friday as embraced by US firm Dechert), to making more significant changes like shared family leave that makes it easier for both men and women to balance career and family.

While the days of the traditional law firm model are long from over, there are definitely signs that the legal world has moved on, and definitely for the better. 

Jennifer joined Chadwick Nott in 2018 to specialise in interim legal recruitment, bringing 15 years of experience with her. She places qualified solicitors in private practice and in-house interim roles across all practice areas in London.

Jennifer Wellspeak
T: 0203 909 5176
M: 0772 1874 1694

How useful did you find this article?
Thank you for your feedback!