L-R Nan Loudon, Sherry Cushman and Sam Hollis, Cushman Wakefield, Atlanta. John Disney/ ALM

One-size attorney offices are finally catching on with Atlanta law firms.

Troutman Sanders will have uni-size offices in its new space, said Nan Loudon, the head of real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield’s local project management team, who is overseeing the buildout at Bank of America Plaza at 600 Peachtree St., where Troutman renewed its lease last year.

Loudon is also overseeing King & Spalding’s restack of its floors after it renewed its lease at 1180 Peachtree St. in January. “If King & Spalding were moving into new space, they’d do it too,” she said. “Given the investment they have in the perimeter space [where lawyer offices are located], they decided not to.”

Troutman and King & Spalding’s lease renewals are the biggest ones locally in the past year or more.

Troutman renewed in August 2016, downsizing from 307,000 square feet on the top floors of the 55-story building to 225,000 square feet—nine floors—in the building’s middle zone.

King & Spalding downsized from 416,000 square feet (17 floors) to 320,000 square feet (11 floors). Like Troutman, King & Spalding is doing an extensive redesign and modernization.

Loudon talked to the Daily Report earlier this week about the latest trends in law firm office space along with Sherry Cushman, the head of Cushman’s national law firm group who was visiting from Washington, and Sam Hollis, an office space broker for Atlanta law firms.

Other big trends, Loudon said, are introducing more natural light with glass interior walls for offices on perimeter walls, collaborative areas on practice floors with the tech infrastructure to allow easy movement of laptops and devices, and “comfortable furniture so it’s not so bad when lawyers are spending a 14-hour workday at the office.”

“All of these things will hopefully break down some of the silos created in firms—and allow cross-selling and more business,” she said.

The Future Is Glass

Cushman & Wakefield’s own state-of-the-art new space could signal what’s in store for law offices in the future. The real estate brokerage just moved in at 1180 Peachtree St. in August, taking over the 31st and 32nd floors from King & Spalding.

Large Atlanta law firms, like those nationally, have modernized, creating public floors with a variety of conference rooms and meeting spaces and opening up dark, wood-paneled offices and conference rooms on perimeter walls with glass to admit sunlight.

Cushman has taken it further. A visitor who enters the main floor from the elevator bank encounters an open reception area to the right and a large, busy coffee bar in the center of the space. All of the various meeting and work zones on the floor are completely visible, even though some are walled off with clear glass for privacy.

Asked if law firms will start installing cafes in the middle of their reception floors, Loudon replied: “You will see elements of that in King & Spalding’s restack and Troutman’s new project—collaborative areas and coffee areas where you come in and work right off the elevator lobby. And more natural light.”

“It’s part of the move from ‘me’ space to ‘we’ space,” Cushman said. “It’s not nine-to-five office space anymore—it’s 24/7.”

From a quiet, glassed-in meeting room, a visitor can see the activity across the entire floor—at the coffee bar, the reception area, around groupings of sofas and chairs, and in an adjacent glass-walled room where a real estate research team was busily working away in front of multiple computer screens each.

One Size Fits More

Uni-size offices, instead of larger ones for partners and smaller ones for associates, has been a trend for several years nationally—but Troutman is the first large law firm in Atlanta to embrace it.

While single-size offices can shrink the square footage a bit, the real advantage is their modularity, Loudon said. “Single-size offers the ultimate in flexibility as practice groups grow or shrink. It’s easier to restack and resize groups of lawyers.”

They also reduce hierarchy, which the younger generation likes, Cushman said. Since partners meet with clients in conference rooms these days, they don’t actually need big offices, she added.

“On the work floors, what we’re trying to do is create an environment where you can be comfortable and work long hours,” Loudon said, with ergonomic chairs and lots of light.

It’s practicable for Troutman to install uni-size offices, Loudon said, because the firm is moving to completely new floors in Bank of America Plaza, where it has been headquartered since the building opened in 1992.

“It’s hard, unless you move to a new space, to go single-size,” Cushman explained, because of the expense and disruption from gutting and then building out new offices in an existing floorplan.

It can also be perceived as a reduction in status for those with the larger offices, Cushman said, adding that in a fresh space people are more amenable to same-size offices.

Several other Atlanta firms, such as Alston & Bird and Drew Eckl & Farnham, have considered one-size lawyer offices when redesigning their offices but balked at the expense.

For the massive overhaul of Alston & Bird’s 16 floors at One Atlantic Center (1201 W. Peachtree St.), completed in 2014, Atlanta managing partner Janine Brown told the Daily Report the firm had concluded that it would be too expensive to gut and build out so many offices.

Drew Eckl & Farnham made the same decision when the firm moved downtown to SunTrust Plaza (303 Peachtree St.) last November, managing partner Julie John said, especially since the previous law firm tenant left built-in offices. However, everyone did get standard furniture, another big trend in law office design.

Flipping the Hierarchy

An even newer design trend than uni-size offices is floor plans where the zones around the perimeter window walls are turned into open areas with desks for associates and staff—and the partners occupy glassed-in offices with doors on the central core, Cushman said.

That is the opposite of the traditional floor plan, where lawyers occupy offices along the perimeter with staff in the central core.

“There are New York firms that are going there. We’ve studied it for some firms here in Atlanta,” Loudon said. “They’re not willing to make that big of a leap.”

Cushman has. On its work floor, teams like the multifamily apartment group occupy the premium space along the window walls, situated in open arrangements with desks instead of cubicles. There is also a quiet room with comfortable-looking chairs and desks, where phone use is not permitted. These zones are glassed in for privacy but clearly visible.

There were some individual offices in the center of the floor, but not many were occupied.

“It’s easier for us to go there,” Hollis, the broker, said. “We don’t have the hierarchy.”

Lofts for Lawyers?

In Atlanta, law firms are staying put these days because of a “lack of product and cost,” Hollis said. That follows a flurry of law firm relocations after the financial crisis, when Atlanta was a tenant’s market.

It’s a landlord’s market now—and a tight one: Class A office buildings are short of blocks of contiguous floors in the submarkets where big law firms traditionally like to be—the zone running along Peachtree Street from Buckhead to Midtown to downtown.

“Here in Atlanta, law firms are very conservative about the geography where they locate. Atlantic Station is the only newer market that large firms have migrated to,” Hollis said. One reason is that they don’t want to give up restaurants, transit and other amenities.

“Atlanta is also not a big prelease market,” he added, where a law firm or corporation will commit two or three years in advance to be a tenant in a new building.

That is changing, he said, noting that NCR is building a tower at Tech Square on Spring Street.

Nationally, Cushman said, law firms are venturing beyond their traditional submarkets because they want more efficient and up-to-date space. “They want new product so they have to go to a new area,” she said.

Cushman’s client DLA Piper did that in Chicago, she said, moving into newly developed River Point in February, which is at 444 Lake Street in the West Loop. In New York, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom is the anchor tenant for 1 Manhattan West, part of a five-acre development on Ninth Avenue built over Penn Station tracks that will open in 2019.

Developers go after law firms by designing buildings that attract them. For instance, Hollis said, Bank of America Plaza was designed to have lots of corner offices, which was important for law firms when it opened in 1992.

Will loft space be the next trend? Atlantic Yards, which Hines is building in Atlantic Station adjacent to Homewood Park, will have what the developer calls “collaborative office space in a warehouse style.”

Law firms are more receptive to changing style than location, Loudon said, adding that she’s doing some “lofty looking” space in Class A buildings.