Opportunities for the WSBA’S Office Space
COLUMN > A Note From the WSBA Executive Director
BY TERRA NEVITT
Think back three years. Did your crystal ball forecast all that was in store as we rang in the 2020 new year? If so, you must be a billionaire from all that hastily acquired Zoom stock, yes? When I consider the magnitude of the shift that was coming our way—to the workplace, to our personal lives, to our culture, to our world—it makes guestimates about the coming three years, and beyond, seem somewhat … unimaginable. But imagine we must! Because at the end of 2026, it will be time to again face a decision regarding the long-term future of the state Bar: Where, and how, we situate our physical office space.
This a question we face periodically. The WSBA has been located in downtown Seattle since it started as a unified bar in 1933. Since that time we have moved our headquarters several times, moving into our current space in Puget Sound Plaza in December 2006. While downtown real estate is famously expensive, we have been able to secure some pretty fabulous deals in our current space and have enjoyed a strong relationship with our landlord, which is the University of Washington. That said, every time our lease is up for renewal, it has been an opportunity to reassess our needs and consider a shift.
The decision this time around feels particularly fortuitous given the impact of the pandemic—and what we have learned from it—on our operations. Pre-COVID-19, the WSBA was a fully in-office workforce. We are now mostly remote. If you’ve experienced the same shift, you know that the change has come with definite pangs; we have lost those delightful moments that come from both planned and impromptu face-to-face encounters with colleagues. But there have also been meaningful gains. Our staff has proven, overall, to be more productive and engaged when we forgo the rush-hour commute and loosen the 9-to-5 parameters. We have made it a priority to retool our processes and services for remote and online participation, including committee/board meetings, which provides greater accessibility to volunteers and members statewide.
Another gain from this shift is the opportunity to rethink our physical space, with the potential to meaningfully reduce the footprint needed to accommodate employee workspace. In the short term, we’ve been working with a broker to sublease several floors in our current building (know anyone looking for a great office location in downtown Seattle?). In the long term, this is a gift. Instead of putting most of our facility resources toward employee workstations, we can imagine different ways to configure our physical space to best support our mission and members. We can consider differences in size, location, function, and even partnership and satellite opportunities.
At a recent listening-tour stop in Kittitas County, I asked for input about the WSBA’s location, and a member—with genuine curiosity—asked: “Well, why would anyone go to the state bar facilities anyway?” The answer, pre-pandemic, is that we hosted a robust schedule of onsite CLEs, seminars, and various committee and board meetings, interspersed with regulatory hearings and processes. Post-pandemic, these functions are still quite robust, and in-person participation is on the rise. However, the premium is now placed on our broadcasting capabilities as well as “hoteling” partnership space. As an example of the former, sections hold CLEs in our conference center not because they expect a large in-person turnout, but because of our technology to seamlessly produce and webcast seminars across the state and beyond; the same is true for our meeting rooms equipped with cameras and microphones, allowing for remote participation. As for the latter, we have experienced—admittedly not a ton, but we expect the demand to increase—a need from those in the legal field to access temporary office space, especially as firms and businesses have moved away from commercial space. For example, we recently hosted a contingent of law school students and their advisors, providing a “home base” to check in and do work as they interviewed with potential employers throughout the Puget Sound area.
Looking toward the future, I am excited about harnessing these trends and reimagining our space and technology to further unite and serve the legal community. As the commercial real estate market is rapidly changing in major urban centers, we are keenly interested in researching whether a purchase or lease option will secure our best financial interests for decades to come. Several neighboring state bars have purchased their own headquarters, with many lessons learned, and we are doing our own explorations.
Another important question is where the state Bar is located. We have certainly heard from members outside the Puget Sound region that the WSBA feels like a Seattle-centric entity. There is a reason for our Puget Sound base: 56 percent of WSBA members in Washington state are in King County; when you expand to include Snohomish to the north and Pierce to the south, that increases to 69 percent. The majority of legal professionals are here, but we still want to effectively serve the entire membership. One thought under consideration is the concept of satellite offices. With the WSBA’s decreased footprint in the Puget Sound region, would it be possible—and desired—to create smaller outposts with office and conference capabilities across the state? Could we partner or co-locate with county bars and volunteer-legal services providers? Would it be of interest to have space where members can host and join WSBA CLEs locally, with the ability to broadcast widely? Is there an interest by local work-from-home legal professionals in having the ability to use a conference room as needed?
The WSBA Board of Governors is approaching the long-range facilities issue with thoroughness and thoughtfulness to prepare well ahead of our lease expiration in 2026. Various Board committees and WSBA staff are hard at work examining the fiscal and operational impact of various scenarios. All of that information will factor into the final decision, alongside another critical consideration—member and public feedback. We are not locked into anything yet, other than the overall idea that we will be decreasing our employee workspace, exploring how to maximize use to members, and, overall, pursuing the option with the most long-term financial and functional benefit. Those are ample parameters in which to incorporate your wishes and concerns.
So now that you have some of the background and considerations, and while we are still in the anything-goes-ideation phase of facility planning, I want to pose that question from my Kittitas County colleague to you: Why would YOU go to the state bar facilities? What type of space would be useful to you and your practice, and where would it be?
I sincerely value your input, and so does the Board of Governors. Where will go together in our 2026 Space Odyssey?
Please Let Us Know
What type of WSBA space would benefit you and your practice? Where would it be located? Why would you go there? Please submit any feedback here: https://forms.office.com/g/z3FDAEHywG.