Starting a small law firm comes with a lot of challenges. Yet, it’s also extremely rewarding. There are a lot of resources available to lawyers who are interested in starting a small law firm. Those resources guide lawyers through the mechanics of opening and running the business. In this post, we’re going to look at office choices and some factors related to each that might help you make your decision.
Traditional Office Space
Let’s start with what most lawyers and clients are most used to seeing: traditional office space. If you’re starting a small law firm, the idea of having your name (or the name of your firm) on a plaque or sign outside as well as a beautiful waiting area, conference room, and the actual offices create a nice impression. It really is what most people think about when they read or hear the words “lawyer,” “attorney,” or “law firm.”
There are some serious advantages for this type of set-up. There’s plenty of room for you and your staff to work. You have space if you need temporary staff (which you may find beneficial when you’re extremely busy because staffing agencies won’t send workers to home offices). You (and the public) see your name or the name of the firm outside of the office. You have a place where you can meet with clients. If someone looks you up on Google, they get an office address (instead of a post office or your home address). You’re also in complete control of your space. From an ethical perspective, the control you’re able to exert over the environment can work in your favor when it comes to protecting yourself from an ethics complaint.
However, there is a serious drawback. It creates solitude. Sure, that might sound great. Yet, if you’re solo lawyer and you’re not sharing your space with other lawyers, you can end up inside of a bubble. Also, depending on the size and the price, you may find that using a traditional office space when you’re starting a small law firm can be more expensive than you thought.
Shared Office Space
So, what can you do it you love the look of traditional office space but find that the price is just too much for you to handle alone? Look for shared office space. You could still get access to the conference room, mail delivery, and maybe even support staff. Depending on who you share space with, you may even get access to a shared law library. This can be a fantastic option when starting a small law firm.
Keep in mind that you may have to plan out or consult a schedule to determine when you can access the conference room. You also won’t have a lot of control over who you share the space with unless you first choose the space and then choose your own office mates. Do you really want to share space with someone who is your direct competition or someone that you really don’t like? Do you really want to share space with someone you may not know very well?
When it comes to ethics, you could have more risk when starting a small law firm in a shared space. While you’re not generally responsible for the actions of someone else you share space with, you really have to put a lot of thought into the fact that you’re sharing common space and support staff. You certainly don’t want to defend a bar complaint that includes you when you weren’t really involved in what happened.
Working from Home
More and more lawyers starting a small law firm decide to work from home. There’s no commute. There are tax benefits. You don’t have a lot of additional expenses. You may even be able to increase your productivity. What’s not to love?
Well, since you asked…the drawbacks depend, at least to some degree, on your practice. If you’re a high-volume practice and you need support staff, a place to store paper files, and you need to attend a lot of client meetings, that can be a problem if you’re working from home. Depending on where you advertise, you’ll have to consider getting a virtual office address or a PO Box since you won’t want your home address out there. Your home address may not appeal to your potential audience, either.
There are also the usual suspects of distraction that you won’t necessarily be immune to because you’re an attorney. You may fall into the “I can work on it later” mindset and then clean your entire house (or go out for the day). “Later” shows up at the most inconvenient time. You may find that you’re not at your mental best at the end of a busy day around the house or being out and about. It’s also not an easy feat to separate out your work from your homelife since you now live where you work. So, while working from home can be an option, it’s important that you really think about how it will affect you and your practice.
Coworking spaces are on the rise! Many even provide you with access to a meeting space and a professional address. It can help eliminate the distractions often found when someone works from home while also being less expensive than paying for your own office space.
Yet, coworking spaces create another set of circumstances that you may not like. You could have people in the coworking space who are there for socializing (or who just people who do a lot of talking while they work). This can take up a lot of your devoted work time or just wear you out. You also won’t have dedicated space to secure your files. It may create an ethical issue since you could have sensitive client information with you.
Starting a Small Law Firm: Do Your Research and Weigh Your Options for Office Space
Before you choose where your primary office space will be located, do your research and weigh your options. Laptops, portable Wi-Fi, and easy access to other forms of technology mean that you can probably take your “office” with you. Yet, it’s still important to think about how doing so could impact your law office.