Solo attorneys sometimes land in an office share setting. And look, I get it. The reasons for doing so can be compelling. There’s the savings on overhead, the presence of others who can provide personal and professional support, and the list goes on. While I have no desire to quash anyone’s desire to work in such a setting, I do feel compelled to share a story; because sometimes it’s just too easy to minimize and even ignore potential problems.
Three solo attorneys, who had practiced together in an office share setting for years, decided to formalize their relationship and form a firm. The arrangement proved to be short lived, however, due to diligence issues coupled with multiple disciplinary complaints involving one of the partners and financial struggles with a second partner. The firm was dissolved and the three returned to their former office share arrangement. Not long after, one of these attorneys was sued for malpractice. It was then that the following came to light. Two of the three attorneys had decided to practice without malpractice insurance, to include the one who had been sued.
Now, because the pockets of the attorney who was sued were basically empty, the judge in this case allowed the plaintiff to amend the complaint to include the other two suitemates, the prior firm, and a fictitious firm; and here’s where it gets interesting. The attorney who was originally sued had been using letterhead, writing checks, and filing pleadings all under a fictitious firm name, which just happened to be the last names of the three attorneys sharing the space. It should come as no surprise that due to the success of this initial malpractice claim, additional claims eventually followed.
Again, my purpose in sharing this story is not one of trying to convince attorneys to never share office space. Office share settings are commonplace and can be quite beneficial for all involved. My intent is simply to encourage any attorney who already is in an office share setting, or might consider it at some point in the future, to focus on more than just all the positives of the business relationship when making a decision about being in the space. As with any relationship, business or personal, things can go south quickly and for all kinds of crazy reasons.
Entering into or staying in an office share setting shouldn’t be just about the money, the convenience, the space itself, or the presence of others. Know who are about to enter into a business relationship with. Don’t run with informal verbal agreements. You do need to put everything in writing. Most importantly, make sure everyone in the space maintains malpractice coverage. If there’s any big takeaway from my story above, it’s that.
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®.