In my last post, we looked at the pros and cons of different kinds of law office arrangements available to a solo practitioner. We didn’t really discuss how to determine the actual geographic location of the office, however. Of course, if you have decided on a home office, perhaps that settles the question. If you have the option of relocating your home base, or you won’t have a home office, here are some thoughts to factor into your location decision.
- Practice FocusYour primary practice area may significantly influence your choice of location. If you have a practice that requires you to appear in court several times a week, often on short notice, a location near the courthouse can save a lot of time.If you have a business practice, think about where your clients congregate. Are certain industries zoned to the same part of town? Is there a high-tech or manufacturing corridor? Can you open your office in the same building as an important industry association or near a popular meeting venue for the industry? Even though most of your interaction with clients may be telephonic or electronic, some will still prefer to have their lawyer close by. If you choose a building that lets you ride in the elevator every day or eat in the same restaurants with members of your target market, you will enhance your ability to develop relationships with potential clients.
For a consumer oriented practice, clients in a large metropolitan area may choose a lawyer based on geographic convenience to them. Someone preparing a will or seeking a divorce may feel stressed or intimidated if they have to go to a congested central business district to meet with an attorney. A personal injury lawyer should have an office with easy access for people with mobility challenges. In sum, give some thought to the kind of clients you seek, and the ways that location may impact their choice of a lawyer.
- Client Demographic Data Sometimes it isn’t obvious where to find your target clients. You can get some assistance from your government in locating them, however. Small Business Development Centers funded by your tax dollars provide free counseling to small businesses, including a law practice. The SBDC provides services relating to financial and business planning, marketing, and feasibility studies, among other matters. The SBDC will do marketing and demographic research for you based on the parameters you establish, for free. By way of example, the SBDC can help a wills, trusts and estates lawyer identify an office building close to the neighborhoods that have the highest number of married couples with small children and an annual family income in excess of $150,000.
- Attorney Demographics Give some thought to where your competition is located, too. The SBDC can usually tell you how many other lawyers are located within a certain range of your proposed office.Does your state bar association have demographic information about lawyers in your state? You can probably guess that you will find more lawyers near a law school or a seat of government, but what are the practice area distributions? The State Bar of Texas, where I’m licensed, publishes reports on demographic and economic trends for attorneys in the state. You can see the number of attorneys per capita in various counties, the median income of attorneys in different practice areas and regions of the state, and the median hourly rates there. A lot of other information is available. When combined with census data and other information that you can obtain on the internet or from the SBDC, you may be able to identify a trending growth region in your state that has not yet been completely inundated by lawyers in your preferred practice concentration. That can give you a chance to grab a foothold in advance of the tide.
- Small Town or Big City
With emerging technologies, lawyers do have a lot more flexibility in office placement. If you have a good internet connection and adequate broadband capacity, you might be able to practice almost as easily in the suburbs or in a small town as in a big city. Here are a few reasons you might choose to practice in a small town.
Usually the number of attorneys per capita will be significantly lower there, and the cost of living is lower, too. Lawyers I know in smaller towns describe a collegiality in the legal community that, sadly, seems to have largely vanished from the bigger cities. Many also report that experienced lawyers and judges took them under their wing to mentor them as they got started. With most law schools failing so miserably at actually teaching lawyers how to practice law, the opportunity to develop such relationships can be a significant benefit to someone setting up a practice straight out of school.
On the other hand, sometimes less populated communities can be rather closed to strangers. It may be important to have some family connections or a well-established sponsor there to open doors for you.
Most small town practitioners find it necessary to develop a general practice because their clients expect them to know how to handle everything, and there may not be enough business in any one concentration. If you like variety and aren’t afraid to venture into new territory, you can develop a fulfilling law practice. Rarely will you have the sense of working for an impersonal, uncaring corporation. You will witness first-hand how your services affect the lives and livelihoods of your clients.
Before you decide where to open your solo law practice, do your homework. Take advantage of the resources available to help you gather the facts. Attend your state or local bar conference and get to know lawyers from small towns or on the other side of the city. Ask them about their experience and for their advice. Be creative and keep your eyes open for emerging opportunities. It’s not your mother’s law practice out there today.
How did you determine where you located your practice? Any other considerations you would recommend?
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.