Virtual, Shared, or Private Office Space?

Jan 16, 2018 | Blog, Law Office Management, Professional Ethics for Lawyers, Resources

Lawyers are no longer relegated to private office space. Technology has given us the ability to work from a virtual office space or a shared office space. Lawyers can even work from multiple locations. Yet, have you ever wondered how choosing the right workspace affects your professional life? Each option has positive aspects and serious considerations that could cause lawyers to face an ethics complaint. While you should choose the workspace that best fits your professional and personal needs, you should do so only after considering and planning for the following caveats.

Private Office Space

Because private office space is the traditional choice for solo attorneys (who face a higher risk of being the subject of an ethics complaint), let’s start look at the advantages and disadvantages. Some of the advantages of private office space include:

  • You might feel like a “real lawyer.” That doesn’t mean you’re not a real lawyer if you choose virtual or shared space. Our society is conditioned to think about lawyers as people with big mahogany desks, a waiting room, and a receptionist who greets them when they walk in the door.
  • You have dedicated space to work. You’re not sharing a conference room, library, file storage, or a desk with anyone. Your dedicated work area gives you complete control. You can protect client files. This is a very good thing.
  • Your target market may be more inclined to do business with you. The legal industry is highly conservative and sometimes both lawyers and some of the industries in which we serve are slower to change. Your client base may be more comfortable visiting you in an actual law office setting.

Privacy? Looking good for clients? What’s not to like?! Well, now that you mention it, there are some disadvantages:

  • Setting up, furnishing, and covering the overhead for private office space may be more expensive than you expect. If you’re going to hire a receptionist, legal assistant, or a paralegal, that’s another expense to keep in mind.
  • It could be hard for you to find office space in the part of town you’re interested in. Not only could it be hard to find suitable private office space, it could also be costly.
  • You’re still working alone. As a solo lawyer, you’re still working alone unless you take good measures to ensure that you get into contact with other solo lawyers. This is a disadvantage because it’s important to talk with your peers about practice management concerns and issues to learn more about how you can avoid an ethical complaint.

Shared Office Space for Lawyers

Shared office space, sometimes referred to as coworking space, is another option that you have. Shared office space advantages include:

  • A decrease in overhead expenses. You’ll still have access to a conference room, have your mail delivered to a real office, and have an impressive place to meet clients. You may even split the cost of a receptionist. You get the benefits of a traditional private environment without breaking the bank.
  • You don’t have to work with lawyers. Shared office space and coworking space venues are popping up everywhere. You can choose a shared office space that allows you to work around others and you don’t have to show up every day. Some shared office spaces have daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rates.

You’ve probably already figured out the disadvantages for shared office space for lawyers, but they’re still important to discuss because they can lead to ethical complaints filed against you.

  • You don’t have the privacy that you really need. Unless you’ve handpicked other lawyers to share office space with, there’s no telling who you could end up sharing space with. Even if you’re sharing office space with other lawyers, you must take the proper steps to protect your client files. You also have to consider how much privacy you and your clients will have when they visit you in the office.
  • You could end up with office mates who infringe on your time. Many entrepreneurs choose shared office or coworking space because they need and want connection. While it is important that solo attorneys find a way to network with other attorneys so that you can continue to learn about your profession, it can be problematic from a privacy and a time management perspective to be officed with people who may have good intentions about their intrigue with what you do, but they’re really just there so they don’t get lonely. You must learn how to protect your time and your privacy.
  • You could have an ethical complaint filed against you for something that an office mate did. While you’re not usually responsible for the actions of another person, you could still find yourself in the middle of an ethics investigation if you share a common space or support services.

Virtual Office Space for Lawyers

Virtual office space for lawyers means that a lawyer usually works from home. They may have a forwarding address. They may use a virtual receptionist service. They usually meet with clients through Skype or over the phone. Distinct advantages include but aren’t limited to:

  • Working from your own space. That space could be your kitchen table. It could be a dedicated home office. You can work from the comfort of your own space.
  • You get more control over your schedule. You can be home when your children are home (if you have children). You can work when you’re most productive.
  • There are limited overhead expenses.

It can be a great set-up for solo lawyers unless they have a high volume practice. While there are some things you can outsource, there are some drawbacks to the virtual office space scenario:

  • If you need support staff, you can rely on virtual staff, but you must thoroughly research who they are and if they are capable of helping you.
  • It probably won’t take long for you to run out of storage space.
  • If you work with clients who prefer phone calls, you have to consider the schedule of your family and the noise level.
  • It can be stressful to balance and separate your work and life.
  • You have to consider the privacy risks for client information.

Choose the Office Set-up That’s Right for You

As a lawyer in the digital era, you can choose the office set-up that’s right for you. Many solo lawyers start out working from their home office and then choose shared space with other lawyers or get their own space. Sometimes, they blend the options together. Regardless of what you choose, make sure that you place your client’s privacy as your number one objective.

If you’re facing an ethics complaint, schedule your 45-minute consultation with Zavieh Law. We provide both limited and full scope representation for lawyers in need of bar defense.