Daily Dispatch

Nothing But the Ruth!

If You Build It, Will They Come?

By | Feb.04.13 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, New Lawyers, Nothing But The Ruth!

Someone recently posed the following question on LinkedIn: Should a new solo attorney rent commercial space or work from home? The majority of respondents suggested she save her money and work from home. But it raised an interesting question. When should a law firm owner move from the home office to a commercial office arrangement?

What Are Your Options When You Leave a Home Office?

If you’re a solo practitioner, the first thing I wonder is why wouldn’t you work from home? You can work whenever you want, your commute is merely the time it takes to walk from your bedroom to your office, and you can work in your pajamas if you’re so inclined. Those who need an office outside the home are people who may be distracted by children or pets, or who avoid working by doing household chores or watching TV.

Some solos are comfortable having clients come to their homes for consultations, but if that’s not you, there are other places to meet with clients. I don’t recommend coffee shops because of confidentiality issues. If you don’t meet your clients at their place of business, you’ll need to find a conference room. You can rent these by the hour at a business center. Or you may be able to use a colleague’s conference room for no cost, or an association you belong to may let members use theirs at little or no cost.

If you don’t meet with clients in person frequently, a so-called virtual office facility is an awesome option. Found in most larger cities, these facilities give you a mailing address, receptionist service and an office to meet with clients two to five days a month. Renting one of these often costs the same as a few hours of your services. Also, they may have mixers—a great way to network with others who use the space. There may be extra fees for renting a conference room, using the printer or copy machine, and parking.

If you’re planning to bring in employees or partners, and you’re going to be frequently meeting with clients, renting a commercial office space may be the better way to go. Also, an office will give you a more visible presence in the community—a great asset if you live in a smaller city or are setting up shop in a niche neighborhood. This doesn’t matter as much if you live in a big city where your “storefront” may not be seen by many prospective clients. Maintaining work-life balance may be easier with a separate office, too, because you can keep your two worlds apart. But this is the most expensive option because, depending on your setup, you will have to pay for rent, utilities, furniture, insurance and other equipment and supplies.

To make a decision, you have to consider where you’ll be the most productive, and what situation will give you the most bang for your buck. I started my practice from home, but now I’m considering moving into a virtual office facility at a business center. I’m asking myself questions like:

  • How much will this cost?
  • How much time will I really spend there?
  • How will the extra costs add up?
  • Do I need two to five days a month to meet with clients?
  • Do I want to group my client meetings to fit into two to five days a month?
  • What do I gain by doing this compared to using the conference rooms at my state bar’s office for free?

I love being able to work from home (in my pajamas right now), but what works for me may not work for you. Just be sure to consider all of your options and lay out all the costs—both time and money— before you sign a lease or contract.

Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her virtual practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal 2012 Legal Rebel, Ruth is a 2011 graduate of Arizona State University College of Law and co-founder of Improv Arizona. In her Attorney at Work column “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new virtual practice. She also blogs weekly at UndeniableRuth.com.

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2 Responses to “If You Build It, Will They Come?”

  1. Stephanie Kimbro
    4 February 2013 at 11:10 am #

    State ethics opinions may also be something to consider in making this decision depending on where you live and especially if you plan to live in one state and work from home while practicing the laws of another state. For example, note some of the requirements in the newly amended “bona fide office” rule in New Jersey which would affect a home-based office and leased office arrangement. (http://virtuallawpractice.org/2013/01/nj-supreme-court-adopts-amendments-to-bona-fide-office-rule-121-1/)

  2. David Shulman
    4 February 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    When I first started my solo estate planning practice in February 2009, I had all sorts of “ideas.” I’m putting “ideas” in quotes because they were not necessarily good ones. One of my “ideas” was that I instead of having a real office, that I was going to work out of my home. I would save money on overhead, and meet clients in their homes or places of business. It was brilliant.

    Actually, it was a disaster. First, I wasn’t very productive. You have to have the right personality to work out of your home. There are too many distractions – the TV, the fridge, the laundry, etc. You have to have a certain focus, and I didn’t have it. Also, I found it incredibly lonely. I like seeing and talking to people, and that’s something that’s missing in home offices.

    Most importantly, I quickly discovered that my clients wanted to have a lawyer with a real office. I quickly called the home office experiment a failure. I found that for me, it was very important to be able to get up in the morning, get dressed, and go to work. It’s good for the soul in a way that staying at home wasn’t.


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