I often write about working virtually. Some lawyers object to it because they think it detracts from collaboration. But does anyone really have good data on what it takes for lawyers to collaborate? 

I was intrigued to read Share and share alike (Lawyers Weekly, Australia, 26 Sept 2008). It describes how several large firms, including Mallesons, are beginning to experiment with lawyers sitting in open-plan arrangements. That means no private offices. This is an important read for anyone thinking about law firm design and lawyer collaboration. As usual, Australian law firms are leading the innovation charge.

The article quotes some lawyers as saying the open seating arrangement promotes sharing, training, and mentoring. It also discusses potential issues such as noise.

If in-person collaboration is indeed important (and thus a barrier to working virtually), then should law firms move to open seating? I suspect most lawyers and manager will recoil even more at this than at lawyers working from home or from satellite offices. I, however, remain convinced that the question is as much empirical as it is cultural. What goals do firms and law departments want to foster and what working arrangements best support those goals? Collecting data to answer this may be hard. But simply dismissing the alternatives as unworkable is medieval.

[For the record, I personally worked in an open plan for three years at Bain & Company. And the separation between any two desk was often just enough to accommodate a chair moving back by about 1 foot.]