emerging cave

After three days alone at home, seeing colleagues irl was...kind of appealing?

Clifford Chance is embracing permanent hybrid working, and it’s getting the open plan hot desking to prove it.

In sharp contrast to some US firms hankering to get their staff back to the Old Ways, the Magic Circle giant is designing its new office around an assumption that fee-earners will never again work five (or six, or seven) days in the office.

“It has been made categorically clear to me from leadership and to everyone at the firm that at our firm, hybrid working is here to stay”, said a source close to management at Clifford Chance, who told ROF it had been noted that certain competitors were steering in the opposite direction.

Instead, CC envisages that its lawyers will be doing much of their ‘head down’ work at home, and coming into the office when they need to collaborate.

That’s contributed to its decision to tear up the traditional floor plan featuring PAs in the middle, lawyers in offices around the walls, and big fish in the corners. 

Instead, CC’s new premises at 2 Aldermanbury Square will feature a mix of spaces across its 12 floors including group working areas, open plan areas, and private areas for confidential undertakings. Although a spokesperson said that if everyone did decide to come in on the same day, there would be room for all of them.

The plan has met with some opposition from solicitors wedded to the idea of having their own office, but open plan appears increasingly to be the compromise lawyers will have to accept if they want to also enjoy the flexible benefits of hybrid working. 

“If you’re looking at hybrid working and coming in to spend time with your team, it needs to reflect that”, said the source.


CC is also banking on lawyers being less averse to open plan than they once were - and perhaps even happier to have some company - when they’re able to spend part of the week at home on their own.

Michael Bates, Clifford Chance’s UK Managing Partner, told RollOnFriday, “On sharing these plans there has been significant support, recognising the great potential for us to foster greater collaboration and enhanced culture".

The firm now has until its 2027 move-in date to solve the annoying issues with hot desking as noted by lawyers whose firms have already adopted it, like “having to spend 5-10 mins each day, grabbing your stuff, re-adjusting the monitor, desk and chair... Yes, first world problems but it’s really annoying”.

Sustainability and technology were the other two principles driving the new office's design, said a spokesperson for Clifford Chance. Open plan requires less cooling, less heating, less equipment and less lighting, which was an important step towards getting the new office over the line to net zero, they said.

Bates commented, ''We have always maintained that our values and commitments on sustainability, as well as our commitment to providing premises which support our people to excel, are at the core of our future aspirations”.

“Our decision to transition to a more energy efficient, technology-led open plan workspace in our new London office is testament to this promise”, he added. Translation: probably no more swimming pool. 

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Tip Off ROF


Anonymous 22 September 23 07:50

I would work sitting on some MAMIL's lap in the office if it meant preserving 2/3 days at home.

No more pool 22 September 23 07:54

The pool has been confirmed gone for several months now. They’re currently deciding whether to have a gym.

Home sweet home 22 September 23 08:27

There are the people who really want to be in the office - and those people are one of the reasons I prefer working from home.

Open plan is just shit in any context - hybrid or otherwise. You cannot collaborate or concentrate between you're either the cause of the noise or disturbed by it.

WAnonymous 22 September 23 09:37

I collaborate less in open plan than I ever did when I had my own office. When we used to arrange ad hoc meetings in a partner's office, now we have group zoom calls with each of us dialling in from our desk. Senior Associates spend their days with noise cancelling head phones on so they can concentrate, which is more of a "closed door" policy than actually having your office door closed. 

Thumbs up 22 September 23 09:49

Progressive and sensible move by CC to embrace hybrid working, unlike the dinosaurs at US firms dragging people in for most of the week. One point about open plan is that it would be good to have some designated “quiet zones” where talking is restricted, for people who want to get their heads down to work on a document. 

Bob 22 September 23 10:20

It seems from the ROF comments section that people (i) hate firms that are forcing people back into the office, as they want to work hybrid but (ii) hate firms that are changing working environments to support hybrid working.

News flash - you're not going to have your own office in a flash City building, but at the same time only have to come to it once a week.

Toby Greenlord - Master of the Universe 22 September 23 10:25

I got a few heads into the camper van when we had a proper pickle with the famous b&w for a colour issue a few years ago.  Set a few precedents with that one I can tell you.  Otherwise I mostly work alone.  These days I find a stone circle and cast some yarrow sticks to fix on the correct strategy.  My approach has changed since I got threatened with contempt at Wood Green.  I still don't know why they weren't more open to trial by combat.   I brought everything they needed.

Sadly been stuck in the services at Leicester Forest East for about a week since the head gasket went.  On the bright side they do have one of the best rated Welcome Break restaurants in the country so I've been chucking pancakes on expenses.

White Shoe Lawyer 22 September 23 10:37

What’s next to the “magic” circles?

They won’t even be driving cars like lawyers from Cravath Scale US firms, who have Mercedes AMGs, they’ll be using open plan transport, like the bus or the tube.

Their marriages will lose the magic too. It’s a short step between opening your offices and opening your marriages. Today open plan, tomorrow, you’re getting cuckolded by a lawyer who can hold down an individual room.

Cynical 22 September 23 11:00

I do wonder how many people with a view on open plan offices have actually experienced it…… also how many work at home in an enclosed office with no one else around …. (Maybe their salaries allow this)

Anonymous 22 September 23 11:12

What grates is CC dressing up the move to open plan as encouraging hybrid and collaborative working, when it is nothing of the sort. It is a cost saving measure, pure and simple. I would have more respect for them if they just came out and said this rather than trying to pretend it is to encourage collaboration.  

Anonymous 22 September 23 12:04

" ... lawyers will be doing much of their ‘head down’ work at home, and coming into the office when they need to collaborate."


"head down work" - work

"collaborate" - peacocking, group-thinking, wasting time on piffle.  Wouldn't it be great if someone invented e.g., a telephone?  

papercuts 22 September 23 12:23

"I do wonder how many people with a view on open plan offices have actually experienced it…… also how many work at home in an enclosed office with no one else around …. (Maybe their salaries allow this)"


You wonder?!  In the vast majority of firms and companies, individual offices died out in the last century mate.  I’d be amazed if most people under 50 had ever even had a proper office of their own, with a door they could close against the hubbub. 

How professional is it when a client can hear your colleagues jabbering in the background. 

Why on earth are law firms in urban centres anyway – not even banks have offices any more.  Frankly, office locations have nothing to do with facilitating clients; it's mere architectural peacocking and partners' preferences for particular wine bars.  Stop pretending that, for professional knowledge workers, offices have a serious point any more, they don't.

But there is a logic to CC's approach here - you get your real work done at home, and you come in to the office to p*ss about, and to hold hands (metaphorically speaking) with lonely juniors, functioning alcoholics etc 

Anon 22 September 23 13:03

You must live in a pretty sad world if you don't think you can learn anything from being with your colleagues and that you have so little to offer they similarly can't learn anything from you!

Officedrone 22 September 23 16:18

I've worked the majority of my career in open-plan offices and in my experience it works just fine. I had my own office for a while in one firm, but being cooped up all day did my head in (even with "open door policy and all that), so a colleague and I started sharing our office, which was much better. 

If some colleagues are particularly noisy or spend their time mooching about and wasting yours by trying to distract, talk to them. It's not hard to say "Sorry mate, I really need to concentrate on this piece for a bit, will catch up with you later." In almost 10 years of open plan working at 3 different employers, I've not yet encountered that just flagging the need for a bit of quiet and non-interruption wasn't perfectly fine.

The risk of distraction and non-sense at home is just as bad for many - deliveries, phone, procrasturbation, playing with pets, listening to music or having the telly on in the background... if people want to focus, they can create the conditions for it, almost regardless of environment. If people aren't in the right headspace, they'll distract themselves or give into distraction, regardless of open plan, own office or WFH.



Steve Steve Steve Steve 22 September 23 16:41

Clifford Chance Singapore also rolled out unassigned open plan (read: unassigned = hot dealing) with disastrous consequences - barely anyone is in the office unless […] throws a strop and makes his […] team come in 4 days a week to take Teams calls at phone booths all day (read: from small tables in windowless rooms without a proper webcam and desktop setup)

An ill omen of what is become of Clifford Chance London!

Anonymous 22 September 23 16:59

Open plan = half the fit out and running costs, and probably half the space needed.  All good for the profit share!

Anonymous 23 September 23 14:19

@Anon 22 September 23 13:03

This is year 2023 and we have the technical means for interacting with people over the net. We use Teams, write and annotate documents live, and you can also have whiteboard functions too. Best of all all the notes remain and can be stored, as opposed to scribblings on a glass whiteboard.

Where we work, the main problem with our office space are numerous, from the eternal building sites outside our windows (complete with out of control dynamite charges that damaged our interior walls), a noisy airconditioning system that never seems to work right, and the constant remodelling of adjacent office spaces that always involve drilling in walls that means our meeting rooms are not possible to use.

Toby Greenlord - Freeman on the Land 25 September 23 00:34

My understanding is that if you show your employer your birth certificate and make a formal verbal declaration that you are subject to no law but the law of God and the natural laws of common decency they you are allowed to work anywhere you like that is not explicitly private property.

I once asked a client for a diving bell because I fancied doing his casework at the bottom of Lake Windermere.  It was funny to see his face when I explained that if he didn't provide it I'd be able to sue him for my time, fee and hurt feelings.  Not so great when he offered me a bucket with a hole in it, a roll of tape and a hosepipe and said "improvise".

On the whole the experience didn't have much to recommend it but you could always ask for sometihng else.  Given my experience in the field I'd be happy to advise for a couple of ounces of Drum, some king size rizla and a tow to Watford Gap.  Or just the rizla.

Best of both 25 September 23 14:00

One thing all these comments seem to miss is that you can have both - hot desking is fine, it’s open plan that is dreadful.

Open plan has been scientifically demonstrated over and over again to ruin employee morale, reduce collaboration, damage productivity, and make people more averse to being in the office.

Just have offices with 2 or 3 desks in them, and then hot desk them. That way you aren’t paying for mountains of pointless desk space, people who come in every day can still have their own chosen spot. People can sit with their trainee or their team and actually have impromptu meetings and chats in their small offices. It’s such a ludicrously easy solution. 

Nexis 27 September 23 10:59

I agree with home sweet home's post above.

I've had my own office, shared with a trainee/junior and been in open plan over the years.  Open plan is dreadful.  Any thing confidential, you end up juggling your papers/laptop/phone over to a side room to deal with (if you can find one that hasn't been colonised by someone who hates open plan).  You "collaborate" with colleagues less because you are disturbing everyone around you when you speak.  Your clients hear colleagues when you are on the phone.  And getting any drafting/reading/thinking is impossible with other people jabbering on.  Who on earth thought it was a good idea?

Lord Brian of Eno 27 September 23 14:50

@ Toby Greenlord - Freeman on the Land 25 September 23 00:34

It would be easier to present them with a copy of The Magna Carta drawing attention to clause 11 and in particular sub-clause 11(b)(i)(a) where all this is clearly laid out.

As everyone knows The Magna Carta is the foundation of law in Britain and has been since 1485.  Everything subsequent is superseeded by it unless it is written in Latin.

Strange system but somehow it works.  We didn't get a Trump here.

Toby Greenlord - Freeman on the Land 29 September 23 06:25

Thanks for your contribution Sir Brian but I go back to the original Japanese document, The Manga Carta, on which all other such significant documents are based.  The pictograms are perfectly expressive.  It's a little known fact that both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were only put into English after a fist fight between John McHenry and Abraham Lincoln over the position of some tentacles.

Free Agent Limo 29 September 23 07:27

We've had hotdesking since before COVID and it's gash. What it does is make the relationship even more transactional and people don't want to be there because they feel like call centre workers. This then has an impact on company "culture" which management then moan about and try to address with unofficially compulsory "fun" events which no one cares about.

The cost savings are enormous however but there is a cost to those savings.

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