One of the first things people do when starting a practice is rent office space. At least it seems like something that you should be doing. Originally it was all about the image you present and impressing clients with the fancy location with nice furniture. These days more and more firms are doing away with the full-time office location. Lee Rosen talks about how he moved his firm to a virtual setup on his blog Divorce Discourse.
The Executive Suite/Virtual Office Setup
One option for office space is what I like to call the virtual office setup. You have a receptionist who answers the phones and a mailing address and have access to offices where you can meet with clients but not full time. In my current setup I get about 18 hours per month of office use and 4 hours a month of conference room use, which ends up just about 10 meetings per month because they require me to book in 2 hour blocks.
For someone just starting out, this is more than enough time to ensure that you can meet with a client face to face for your initial consultation. For most clients that will be the only time you ever meet because so much is done by e-mail and over the phone that you might only see the client in court after that first meeting.
Two years after I opened my doors the San Diego County Bar Association started offering shared workspace and meeting room use as part of your yearly membership, meaning new solos who live downtown can easily start a practice without any of the monthly overhead. I occasionally use the meeting rooms they made available as well, giving me a second office location when the potential client is located downtown.
Realistically I don’t think very many of my clients are impressed by the office. They just want someone they can trust to do the work. The first meeting is essential to building that trust but after that they don’t care where you work. And a few of my clients only ever spoke with me by e-mail or Skype.
Going paperless makes the virtual office easy
Working without a full-time office would be very difficult if I didn’t have my files all scanned and stored digitally. I need to be able to pull up a client’s file while I am working remotely, whether at the San Diego County Bar Center, my husband’s office, or on vacation overseas. (I don’t usually do work when traveling but sometimes things come up and you have to put out a fire.) Doing this is easy because anywhere I have an internet connection I can pull up the complete file.
If you need a full time office, consider sharing space
I know a few people who spent the first few years of their practice sharing work space with another attorney. This gave them lower overhead, someone to talk to, and often referrals as well. In some cases the rent was paid by doing a set number of hours of legal work, which you certainly have time to do your first year or two. Sometimes just having someone down the hall you can discuss issues with can be very helpful.
Here in San Diego there have been a number of incubator programs started by the local law schools that bring together attorneys starting their own practices with lower rent and shared work space so that they can function like a small law firm and send work back and forth. Along with this comes the promise to do some pro bono or lower cost cases. My classmates who live close to downtown enjoy having the office space available and close by. Many eventually leave the incubator once they feel ready to take the next step.
Regardless of how you get started just remember that your decision should be made based on your own personality and needs, not some perception of what clients want to see. Many companies offering the virtual office setup bill you month-to-month so if you don’t find it a good fit you can always find something else and cross that option off your list.
Though some people need a full time office to avoid distractions, whether from children or pets, most new solos can get by just fine with something like I mentioned above until they start bringing in the money to cover a full-time space if they determine that working virtually isn’t for them. Just don’t get a full time office to impress clients because it just isn’t necessary anymore.
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®.