Further evidence of 'northshoring' suggests law firms will continue to move fee-earners into the regions even as the market for London legal offices booms.
A report from commercial property consultancy CBRE shows that demand for central London office space in the legal sector has risen by a third in the last two years, from an average of 600,000 square feet per year in 2009-2012 to 800,000 sq ft in 2013-2014.
But at the same time, it noted that law firms are continuing to outsource functions to regional UK offices, with 14% of those surveyed expecting to do so within the next 12 months.
The report also says firms are beginning to widen the remit of these regional centres from back-office support tasks to fee-earning work, citing Hogan Lovells’ plans to double its lawyer count in Birmingham by the end of 2015.
‘An option pursued by law firms is to set up their own flexible resourcing divisions. These allow firms to meet spikes in demand for lawyers in peak periods,’ it said.
The report coincides with the news that magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has confirmed its plans to open a legal and business services centre in Manchester by the end of the year.
But while law firms are embracing the northshoring trend to reduce costs, they have spurned hotdesking, despite moves in other professional services to reduce the number of desks per employee.
While accounting and management firms are likely to increase the number of people per desk from 1.25 now to around 1.50-1.75 in five years, the majority of law firms are expected to continue providing one desk per person.
The report said while flexible working was a ‘clear aspiration’ for the legal sector, it will be ‘less aggressive’ than accountants and managing consultants.
Although law firms have engaged in strategies to improve workplace efficiencies, such as through moving to open-plan offices, the majority of top-tier US and UK firms have opted to remain cellular.
‘There are cultural factors to consider with many firms reluctant to break with tradition,’ the report said.