Location, professional atmosphere, private offices, paralegal support, networking opportunities. These are all important considerations when shopping for a legal shared office space. But before you sign up, here are questions to ask about the office center site and the owner — along with five pointers on what to expect.
Two Weeks’ Notice
A few days ago, I met with an attorney who was originally introduced to me more than three years ago when he was considering changing offices. At the time, my company didn’t win his business because he wasn’t unhappy with his office space and the hassle of changing addresses for active cases didn’t seem worth it.
He wanted to meet because he had received a 13-day notice that the large international shared office company he rents from is closing the center. All tenants will have to relocate to one of the company’s other shared office locations or find new office space on their own.
Again last night I was reminded of another operator that closed its offices and gave tenants less than two weeks’ notice to vacate.
If you have ever looked for new office space, you know that 13 days is hardly enough time to secure new office space and coordinate a move, especially if your firm has an active caseload.
Many tenants believe there is little chance of this happening if they join a large national or international co-working company or shared office space provider. But almost all large providers set up each of their locations as individual LLCs, making it easy for them to close non-performing centers with little to no recourse to their parent company. When they do close a center, they provide very short notice, effectively forcing tenants to move to another center owned by the operator.
Due Diligence: Questions to Ask Before Selecting Your Next Shared Office Space
It’s impossible to eliminate the risk of a center closing, but here are a few questions that will help minimize the risk of going through this very difficult experience.
- First, inquire about the remaining lease term at the center you are considering. If the co-working operator owns the building, ask them about future plans, what their building hold strategy is, and if the co-working operations has a lease with the building — even if both have the same owners.
- Next, find out the current occupancy of the center. We use 85% as a measure of full occupancy — anything under 70% is a red flag that the center could be on the block to close soon. The obvious exception is if the center opened less than a year ago and is in the early stages of leasing. To that point, a new center is generally a safe bet to remain open for the next one to two years, regardless of occupancy.
- Finally, make sure you understand if the operator is a local, regional or national operator. If an operator only has one center, you need to scrutinize the deal they are offering very closely. Regional operators usually have several centers, are privately owned, and generally go to extreme lengths to protect their reputation. Even if they do close a center, chances are they will handle it in a professional manner, providing as much notice to clients as possible to protect their reputation in the industry and geographic locations.
There’s no question that offices will close for various reasons, often beyond the operator’s control. The issue is when operators do not provide adequate notice for tenants to research options and make an educated decision about new office space.
What About Renting an Office With Another Law Firm?
Typically, lawyers who take an office with another law firm will do so because the cost is cheaper than a professional co-working operator and they do not need to sign a lease. It is true that rent is generally cheaper because the lessor law firm is looking to offset a small portion of its fixed expenses for a short period of time. The benefit of not signing a lease, however, becomes a liability when the law firm provides little notice, generally less than two weeks, that the lawyer must move out because the firm has hired new staff and will need the office.
While you still want to focus on the features below — paralegal support, professional atmosphere and amenities, private office options, networking opportunities and location — make sure you are working with a reputable operator and that the location you are considering checks all the boxes.
Doing due diligence prior to selecting your next office will save you time and money in the long run.
The Legal-Only Shared Office Space Option
Here’s what you should expect if you’re shopping for legal-only shared office space.
1. Paralegal support. Some centers offer paralegal staff who can assist with everything from basic administrative tasks to legal research. Some services come at an additional fee, but it saves you the expense of hiring a full-time legal assistant. Paralegals and support staff, typically employed by the shared office provider, can also help line up court reporters, file paperwork and serve subpoenas.
2. Professional deposition rooms. While amenities like lounges and on-site gyms are common in most shared office suites, private deposition rooms don’t usually make the cut. In centers that cater to the legal community, look for access to private meeting rooms with videoconferencing capabilities to conduct depositions either remotely or in person. You can rent this space as needed, without having to cover the cost for the extra space every day.
3. (Truly) private office space. Many co-working spaces have open floor plans that group tenants together in one large room or use glass partitions to wall off separate offices and meeting areas. This layout may appeal to startups and creative businesses that thrive on collaboration, but it’s not conducive to the day-to-day needs of most attorneys. Law-specific centers should provide access to lounges and other common areas where you can host guests and network with other legal professionals — without requiring you to give up a private office where you can have sensitive conversations with clients without them feeling like they’re in a fishbowl.
4. Next-door expertise. Most people choose a collaborative environment so they can work alongside and network with people from different industries. In legal-only centers, you have an opportunity to tap into a built-in network of legal professionals who specialize in different areas of law.
5. Location, location, location. Proximity to the courthouse is key for many lawyers, so most centers designed for the legal community are located in established legal districts close to the courthouse and other frequented buildings. If your office provider operates multiple locations — either in the same city or, in some cases, across the country — you may have the added benefit of working from whichever center is most convenient on a particular day, eliminating the need to commute back and forth.
The bottom line when evaluating any legal shared office space is to make sure that you are able to reap the social and financial benefits of a collaborative environment without compromising either your professional responsibility or your image.