(This article originally appeared in slightly different form inthe Am Law Daily.)

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NEW YORK CITY—Law firms arereducing the square footage they allot per attorney when signingnew leases, and increasingly are looking for flexible, moreeconomical spaces in keeping with the corporate clients they serve,according to commercial real estate industry analysts.

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Additionally, more law firms also are having professional realestate directors and chief operating officers—includingaccountants—make cost-driven choices about office space, taking thedecisions out of the partners' hands. As a result, squarefootage per lawyer is declining and individual offices are givingway to larger, communal working areas and multipurpose spaces.

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“They are facing pressure to be lean and mean,” saysSherry Cushman, executive managing director andleader of the global legal sector advisory group at Cushman& Wakefield.

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On average, law firms occupy two or three times as much spaceper employee as most other businesses, including banking, insuranceand technology. But that is changing. “Twenty years ago, if theywalked into a beautiful office, [clients] would say, 'Wow, mylawyers must be smart.' But now they walk in andthey don't want to say, 'Wow, this is why myfees are so high,'” says Cushman, whose law firm clients includeBaker & Hostetler, Shook Hardy &Bacon and Clifford Chance.

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C&W will release its 2014 National Benchmark Survey in thefirst quarter of next year, in which it will provide real estatestatistics based on its survey results from 300 law firms. Butalready some trends can be seen.

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The average national law firm spends 6.2% of gross revenue onreal estate expenses, according to C&W's 2013 benchmark survey.That is two or three percentage points less than the share spentabout 10 years ago, Cushman says, and firms are trying to reduce itfurther.

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The average ratio of space per lawyer is 823 square feet, butthat is based on many older leases initiated when firms wereanticipating growth. (Most law firm leases are for 10-15 years,with one or two options to renew at five-year intervals.) Theactual square footage per lawyer if they filled every seat is morelike 686 square feet, according to Cushman. Most law firms aretargeting 600 square feet per lawyer with serious considerationbeing given to single-size offices for all attorneys, she adds.

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JLL's annual law firm survey released lastfall similarly indicated a downsizing trend in space per lawyer,the Am Law Daily reports. It will release its own survey resultsnext month.

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Thomas Doughty, international director andcochair of JLL's global law firm practice group, says many firmsare doubling up their associates and going to only two officesizes, one for partners and one forassociates. In New York, some law firmsthat were in Midtown are moving or are considering movesDowntown—where lower rents are available—or to Midtown West, hesays, where they also are trying new layouts.

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For example, Jones Day announced in November it would move its office fromEast 41st street to Brookfield Place in 2016. “In general,”says Doughty, “anywhere the cost of space is higher, there is aheavier emphasis on using less of it.”

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To learn more about law practices changing offices around thecountry, clickhere.

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MP McQueen

MP McQueen is editor-at-large, and can be reached at [email protected]