One of the first things you need when you open a new law practice is a mailing address. If you’re a solo practitioner, you may be working out of your house, but you may not want your clients or potential clients knowing where you live. You may want to invest in a mail service to create a virtual office address for your new firm.
In How to Start and Build a Law Practice—the bible for many new law practice owners — Jay Foonberg strongly urges new practice owners to pick their address thoughtfully. The address and location of your mail service will become part of your firm’s image. Many potential clients associate the practice of law with a high level of sophistication and elegance. They expect their lawyer to have a well-appointed office. Foonberg recommends new solo practitioners rent space in a place like Fegen Suites, a traditional law office space that comes with a reception area, receptionist, phone and mail service, individual offices, conference rooms and even a law library. Many law firms share this space to work, or perhaps to just meet with clients.
There are no Fegen Suites in my city, so I looked at other options for creating my virtual law practice.
Option 1: Bare-Bones Mail Service
Many mail-related retail outlets, like the UPS Store and Mailboxes Etc., have mailboxes for rent. It gives you a real street address, not a P.O. Box for your address.
- Cost: $17-$22 per month depending on mailbox size
- Pros: Very affordable; likely to be a location close to home; some locations have 24/7 access; some locations have deals if you pay in advance (pay for six months up front, the seventh month is free).
- Cons: Clients who Google your address will see it’s a shopping center; no conference rooms; no phone service; no chance to walk down the hall to talk to another lawyer.
Option 2: Mail Service at a Corporate Office
There are virtual offices located in large office buildings that will give the impression that you work in a big fancy building downtown near the large law firms in your community. They provide you a mailing address and fancy conference rooms where you can meet with clients. You can decide whether you want to buy a package that comes with a set number of hours of conference room rental each month or you can rent those rooms by the hour as needed.
- Cost: $125 per month and up.
- Pros: Clients who Google your address will think you work in a fancy law office; Reasonable conference room rental rates; Potential to have more access to other solo or small firm lawyers.
- Cons: Expensive if you’re operating on a shoestring budget; if you don’t live downtown, it will be a hassle to pick up your mail; downtown traffic; mail pickup and room rental are only available during business hours.
Option 3: Full-service Faux Office
These virtual offices truly give the impression that you work in an office. The office comes with a receptionist and mail service, and has conference rooms and offices available to rent by the hour or the day. They put your name on the downstairs directory and assign you your own phone number. When the receptionist takes a call for you, he or she can forward it to your home or cell phone. Mail forwarding is available for an additional cost.
- Cost: $150 per month and up.
- Pros: Most professional—no one would know that you don’t work there every day; receptionists can screen your calls for you; potential to have more access to other solo or small firm lawyers.
- Cons: Most expensive—extra fees can add up; may not be close to home; mail pickup and room rental are only available during business hours.
So What Did I Pick?
I thought about the advice I’d heard from solo practitioner Rachel Rodgers: Make your law firm fund itself. This means I don’t have to buy things I don’t need and can’t afford on a shoestring budget. When I saw that I could have seven months of bare-bones mail service that’s within walking distance of my home for less than what I’d pay for one month at the other options, it was a no-brainer. I can get a phone number for free through Google Voice and I have no problem meeting with clients at their place of business. There are also co-working spaces and professional associations nearby where I can use a conference room during business hours for free.
I know I’m going against Foonberg’s advice, but I’m ok with that and I think my clients will be, too. (The latest edition of Foonberg’s book was released in 2004, and much has changed in our country economically since then.) After all, part of my image is that I keep my overhead low and pass the savings on to my clients. I want to work with entrepreneurs and innovators who will appreciate that I will meet them in a co-working space where they’re comfortable. I don’t need a fancy office or a receptionist to prove to myself or my clients that I’m a good lawyer. The quality of my work will do that.
Some clients want the fancy law firm in the big fancy building with the beautiful panoramic view of the city, and that’s fine—there are plenty of law firms that will provide that experience. But there are many effective, economical ways to run a law practice today. Lawyers who are opening solo and small firms need to decide which option fits best with their image and budget.
Known for her daring antics and outgoing personality, Ruth Carter is an Arizona IP and Internet law attorney, a former therapist and a co-founder of Improv AZ. Ruth blogs weekly at UndeniableRuth.com.
Dig Deeper: More Articles on Starting a Law Practice
- Risky Business: Start-up Advice from Women Lawyers by Joan Feldman. Choosing office space in a building with other lawyers, or sharing space, can provide important support system for solos—especially recent law grads.
- First, Figure Out Your Billing Strategy and Bad Networking Ain’t Networking by John H. Snyder. This solo who left BigLaw to create a start-up in Manhattan shares advice from his first year on his own.
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