We Spoke To 20 Law Firms

10-06-2021 | by Neal Lerner

We spoke to 20 law firms this week about the current state of their office occupancy and future plans/intentions for their office space.  Half of the firms were Small/Solo with 2 or fewer attorneys, and the other half had 3 or more attorneys.

  • 40% of the Small/Solo group was currently in their office at least 4 days per week.  Note that the majority of them said there were very few other people in the office at the same time and it was safe because there was very little contact with others
  • 60% of the 3 or more group used the office for a total of 4 days or more, and about half of this group said other personnel were present, but at a greatly reduced density.  Note, the 4 or more days of occupancy in this group spanned multiple attorneys so the 60% answer might be a bit misleading.  More often than not, the principal attorneys or main partners were the ones going to the office on a regular basis, while the associates and Jr. partners seemed to be well ensconced at home.

The biggest question we got was "Are things picking up yet?"  For the most part, in the past month, contrary to reports of increased activity and increased commuting, the sector of fallow individual offices remains largely fallow...but there is some activity and in the past month, we've brokered 4 single office rentals in larger Manhattan law firms.  3 were purely for office space and shared amenities and 1 represented a lateral move where the attorney actually is slated to become part of the "host" firm.

So if you asked us, the answer to the question would be "yes and no".  There is no firm progression in either direction and the larger part of the market is still in a holding pattern.  One interesting statistic points to more cars parking daily in the Metro North parking lots at various stops in Westchester which means that there are more commuters and more people who are not drastically afraid of their health on the commute.  This doesn't necessarily translate to more individual offices being rented, because these people fall under the category of occupying offices that have already been rented and they represent occupancy rather than new transactions for the most part.

Another barometer is the individual office rental market in business centers that rent individual offices as opposed to coworking space.  An informal poll of several operators of executive suites in Midtown indicates there is still a pall over the market and that the expected upsurge in demand has not materialized yet.

We will keep advertising individual offices, as we have during the entire office apocalypse we've all been going through in the past 18 months.  The common refrain seems to be that people are sick of working from home all of the time and though it is trying, if they don't have client meetings there isn't a lot of reason for them to push back into their offices (note that attorneys are our main source of revenue as well as information, and lawyer habits of practice are not necessarily duplicated in other sectors of the employment rainbow.

Our personal use case is that we adapted to working from home by hopping on a train and going to Manhattan every time a client needed to be seen or wanted to tour space.  This has worked well while transaction velocity is slow because it meant commuting only 1 or 2 days per week.  When things get more back to normal, this won't be possible because tours will be scheduled every day and shortly before that point I envision our full time return to office space in Manhattan...but until then we will remain virtual.

 

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