Any new office space planning or digital workplace transformation begins with a cost benefit case. The driver for the transformation in most instances is likely to be the need to reduce costs, especially in today’s post-pandemic times.
Law firms need to find ways to remove unnecessary paper and filing cabinets from their expensive office floors, leaving as much room as possible for valued fee-earners to work, potentially within a new hybrid model. But the impetus to secure the investment and implement this kind of project must first be justified by the actual cost-savings that will result from it.
Where do I start?
The process starts with a calculation of the amount of paper and storage cabinets currently in place. We regularly see law firms in London, for example, that have rows of filing cabinets with the filing within measuring the same linear meterage as the equivalent of the height of Mount Everest!
Not just that, but when the cabinets are full, documents spill over into storage boxes. In one recent case, we discovered 500 extra archive boxes occupying valuable space as well as making information difficult to find.
Of course, the lockdown has exacerbated the paper problem, since many lawyers have simply not been back in the office since March 2020 - and files are in the same location as they were left, whether that’s on a desk or in a drawer. This abandoned filing will need to be reviewed and given an appropriate action when staff begin to return to the office. It is certain that many of the records will be superseded.
While some firms have placed a blanket ban on printing paper documents in their home working environments in the interests of data security, others have continued with traditional practices of couriering files between different locations.
What is clear is that lawyers have been working without paper for some time now and proven this way of working to be both possible and efficient. This is evidence enough that a paperless way of working in law firms is possible.
Calculating potential cost savings
Looking forward to when everyone is back in the office, firms can calculate the proportion of their office floors that is occupied by filing cabinets. A single filing cabinet takes up eight square feet, including the space needed in front of it to access documents.
When multiplied by the £70 per square foot charged for prestigious buildings in the city, this means a filing cabinet costs £560 a year, even if it’s empty or unused.
And when you consider that a law firm can have as many as 500 cabinets, the opportunity cost escalates considerably. As well as freeing up space for more productive work to be done by reducing stored paper files, law firms can cut back altogether on the number of floors that they need to lease.
In one example, a law firm wanted to reallocate its office space to make it more open and spacious for fee-earners, while also cutting back on unnecessary onsite storage that encouraged the hoarding of non-file items as well as redundant materials.
Of the 6706.2 linear metres (Lm) included in these calculations, a reduction of 21.9% (1470.2 Lm) was required to fit in the proposed floor space. This consisted of 1166.3 Lm of shared storage and 303.8 Lm of office storage.
We worked with the law firm to implement the following:
Reduction and centralisation of stationery in areas where local stockpiles were being maintained (268.5 Lm)
The return of all boxed archive material that was held onsite to the off-site storage provider (784.3 Lm)
Rationalisation of remaining 640.6 Lm of filing required to fit in proposed space
Allocation of filing cabinets in the new layouts and file mapping to those locations
We are seeing more and more reports of law firms cancelling moves to new offices or putting off plans to take on extra floors. In some cases, we are even seeing firms reduce the number of floors they have available or considering sub-letting space to third parties. Without careful planning to support those decisions, including cost benefit calculations, they may have to reverse them soon – which could turn out to be a costly process.