On this blog and others solo lawyers tout the benefits for the lawyer who goes home to go to work. They are referred to as Third Wave Lawyers, decentralizing from traditional offices and shedding second wave work environments for more independent, creative and technology-driven practices (generally at ‘home’ )which can be a boon to the independent lawyer…the solo practitioner.
And yet those very same lawyers (as well as home office detractors) will say it presents an unprofessional appearance and question whether both colleagues and clients will take them seriously.
Well, let’s think about the client in this post (because quite frankly you are not running your business to please or impress your colleagues. Well, at least I hope not.)
With the New Economy, while you are worrying about the cost of starting up your solo practice, the client is thinking about their costs to retain you and their own convenience when working with you.
A few years ago I had the need of a lawyer who was highly specialized. I wanted the best lawyer, not necessarily the one with the closest office. I found him in Colorado. Clearly, we were not going to meet. All our business was conducted on the internet and phone, initial consultation, signing of the retainer agreement, all legal communications and payment. He negotiated on my behalf, we had three-way teleconferences and concluded business without ever meeting. For all I know he was working in a shed in his backyard or talking to me while mountain biking. I didn’t care. What mattered was his level of expertise, customer service orientation and ability to get the job done.
I found it tremendously convenient to not have to leave my home to go to his office, waste valuable travel time, gas, pay for parking, sit in a waiting room, make idle chit chat nor did I care where he practiced. I knew by reputation he was excellent and because he conducted his business this way it was emminently affordable. But, the key here is it was much more convenient to me, the client. Were there highly qualified individuals in Connecticut? Sure. But I would have had to traipse to their offices and…well, I wasn’t interested because I assumed they wouldn’t conduct business the way I preferred if I was local. I would have had to go to their offices to meet, at least initially. (OK, part of it is I would have felt compelled to meet with them.)
Yes, this was a contract issue and my lawyer and I were comfortable conducting business this way. My point is when you are questioning going home to go to work don’t automatically assume that a home office is a liability to your clients. It may very well be a blessing to them. And one you should incorporate in your marketing message – convenience and potential savings to the client.
Reality check: How often do you actually meet your clients during the course of the representation? If you are involved in an adversarial proceeding, can you conduct depositions at opposing counsel’s office and on their nickel? Can you meet your client’s for an initial consultation in the court house (depending on their legal matter) or at a virtual office paid for a la carte or make an arrangement with a fellow attorney to use their conference room? Many bar associations have conference rooms for rent on an as needed basis for their members. Consider going to your client’s place of business for their convenience if appropriate (while showing interest in their business). Be creative based upon your practice area but don’t assume not having a traditional office where you are carrying overhead is the only way a client will accept you as a credible professional. The burgeoning Virtual Law Office (VLO) is attractive to many clients and lawyers are seeing how their needs can mesh with their clients’ needs in both convenience and cost. Then factor in how much of your aversion to a home-based practice is your own personal prejudice and fear of what others may think.
Remember, what you assume is a negative to the client by NOT having a traditional office, may only be you projecting your inability to turn a home office into a positive in your own mind…or you have very specific needs which you have determined cannot be met by having a home office. And that is perfectly OK. The purpose of this post is to help you consider if a home office may actually be a good thing for your client. Also, going home to go to work is not necessarily about not having the money to open a traditional office. Going home to go to work for many is a lifestyle choice. Not all home office lawyers are impoverished. Not all traditional Second Wave lawyers are wealthy.
A home office is not necessarily right for everyone or every circumstance. However, in this New Economy it is frequently becoming THE choice when starting out or downsizing. Don’t let your own prejudices stop you from assessing the option objectively.