National practice JMW Solicitors is defying market expectations that firms will scale back office space by increasing its footprint in London and Manchester.

The firm told the Gazette it expects the majority of staff to want to come back into the office once restrictions are lifted, and needs enough desk space for everyone who requires it.

This week JMW announced it had agreed terms on a lease for a further 5,188sq ft of office space at Hardman Street in Manchester, and a further floor of its London base near Bank, adding an extra 3,500 sq ft of accommodation. The London office has expanded rapidly since it opened in May 2019, with 39 people (nine at partner level) recruited in the last six months.

The decision to add office space appears to fly in the face of forecasts that city centres may be emptied by staff seeking to work remotely. Senior partner Joy Kingsley said entering these lease obligations during a pandemic showed the firm’s commitment to both Manchester and London, even when social distancing rules are relaxed, and she estimated that some 90% of staff want to return to the office in a regular capacity.


JMW's Manchester office

‘We have provided our workforce in both locations with a workplace to enable collaborative office working in tandem with some home working where possible or when necessary,’ said Kingsley.

‘We have got people keen to be back in the office and we have learnt over the last year that people really don’t want to have to ask whether they can come in – we would rather they can just come in.’

She added: ‘We think our business works best if there is a good presence in the office most of the time. That doesn’t mean five days a week but we have to have enough partners, solicitors, trainees and admin staff that everybody can work easily.’

Meanwhile, commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield says the latest lockdown has seen a major boost the market, with the desire to return to the office having significantly increased.

Speaking at a Professional Practices Alliance webinar, C&W partner James Campbell said: ‘One of the huge problems in the real estate industry is that people will over-simplify how they use their real estate going forward. The reality is in 12 or 24 months’ time, when we get to the new normal, they will say ‘actually we probably needed more space’.’

He added that City law firms are still seeking out large offices, albeit with more flexible leases.