Top 3 Reasons Why Shared Office Space is Ideal for Independent Attorneys

Shared office space for solo attorneys has been a concept that has been around for years. Sometimes a solo will rent an office from a firm or lease his/her own space in a shared office. This is because there is high value in working around attorneys- whether you are part of the same firm or not.

Attorneys used shared office space for three main reasons over any other type of rental.

If you’re thinking about starting a solo law practice, or are already practicing and in the market for different office space, here are the top three reasons solo attorneys prefer shared office space:

  1. High costs of standard commercial leases become a non-issue.

When acquiring an office space, you’ll notice that when you see a shared space, they are significantly less expensive than a direct-from-landlord lease. This means that you have a lower investment and shorter term than what a standard lease would constitute.

For example, an executive suite or your typical one-office sublease generally only requires a one-year commitment and minimal security deposit (typically one month’s rent).  On the other hand, a direct-from-landlord lease will often require four to six months in security deposit and, frequently, a minimum term of five years.

Direct-from-landlord leases may require more time to even be ready for use after signing on the dotted line. You may have to set up phone service or even do heavy duty construction to get the space up to your own needs. This can be an added expense that puts a damper on the entire thing and might not even be a practical acquisition.

Finally, in shared office space, solo lawyers can get access to the office equipment and administrative staff necessary to run a law office, without the expense of carrying the cost for these items all on their own.

  1.  You get a chance to boost your bottom line with collaborative opportunities.

Lawyers are smart people, but they don’t know everything when it comes to law. For example, a lawyer with a practice niche might need the help of an attorney with a complementary practice area. This may be your chance to collaborate should you be familiar with the other attorney’s needs.

For example, in a B-to-C practice such as immigration, attorneys often have practice questions in family law, criminal defense, and employment.

Co-counsel opportunities might be few and far between if you had a standard commercial lease. In a shared office, especially one with exclusivity to lawyers, you could find yourself co-counseling for a case giving you the chance to show what you’re made of and better market yourself for other referrals and clients. You come off more as a full-service firm with the help of colleagues.

A number of attorneys have shared specific examples of how they have collaborated with other lawyers in a shared office space.  Here’s a sample:

  • An attorney loaned a treatise (and gave a push in the right direction) that saves a colleague $5,000 in billable time.
  • A group of attorneys helped test closing arguments on a Saturday…because it was fun for them. This gave the trial firm the confidence to demand a settlement that was 30% more than they originally thought the case was worth.
  • A more experienced attorney helped a younger colleague practice client intake meetings that helped him land more clients.
  • Two attorneys had an impromptu conversation about collecting from deadbeat clients that led to the immediate collection of $65,000 in outstanding bills.
  1.  If the space is right, it will generate referrals.

When you have a collaborative environment, it often results in referrals. In shared law office space, this is common theme. Attorneys should expect some type of generative capability from their shared office space that can either cover a portion, if not all of their rent.

For example in New York City, in a cheap shared office space rental, a lawyer can expect to pay, minimally, $1,000 per month.  If that firm can transform their rent from a fixed expense to a profit center, the firm can add significant additional profit to the firm’s bottom line.

An extra $1,000 (or more) in profit can pay the lease on a Mercedes, buy a custom-tailored suit once a month, or get you many pairs of designer shoes over the course of a year.

The key to making this happen is being selective about the other attorneys in the shared office space. This is a particular issue in spaces where there are few resident lawyers, like what you would find in your typical lawyer co-op or a subleased office from another law firm. (This is somewhat less of a concern in a bigger shared office space with many self-employed attorneys practicing in different areas of the law.)

An attorney would want to make sure that some of the other attorneys practice in complementary areas of the law that will have the most potential for referral exchange and that the culture of the office is reasonably social.

For example, while a construction law attorney can certainly co-exist with a bunch of immigration lawyers, the better fit from a business development perspective would be a shared office space with multiple real estate attorneys.

And just because there are attorneys in a shared office space that could send referrals does not mean that they will.  If the office space has a culture where everyone sticks to themselves behind closed, locked doors, then you’ll never have an opportunity to build the relationships required to exchange referrals.

Having friendly and outgoing tenants in your shared space makes it easier and more natural to build referral potential. Like many other professions, law is social, making opportunities to achieve a referral easier than one expects.

Independent-Minded Lawyers & the “Yo-Yo Effect”

The independent-minded lawyer is a special breed.

We are viewed as renegades – rebels who eschew the familiar path of the traditional lawyer.  Most of my fellow independent lawyer colleagues would probably not object to such a label.

However, our independent spirit is often mistakenly interpreted to mean that we don’t enjoy the company of our fellow attorneys. In most cases, that is an entirely false conclusion. In fact, most independent attorneys in my network are some of the most social and affable folks I know. And we have to be — networking with other attorneys is a vital source of new clients and projects for independent lawyers who can’t rely on “firm clients” to feed them billable work.

When a firm lawyer decides to leave the firm behind and launch a solo practice, they anticipate a number of obstacles and challenges they will face once they make the leap. Most new solos admit that their chief concerns related to (1) having enough work to sustain themselves and earn a reasonable living, and (2) dealing with a myriad of business management issues, such as office space, tech, supplies, insurance, web sites, email, etc.

One challenge that most newly independent lawyers, including myself, fail to anticipate is how lonely life as a solo can be. I’m not talking about lonely in the traditional sense. Instead, the loneliness of the independent lawyer has more to do with not having colleagues around to collaborate with, to bounce ideas off, or perhaps even join forces on a project.  I must admit, however, that having colleagues to go to lunch with or grab a beer on a Friday afternoon was one of the aspects of law firm life that I enjoyed.

I know of several independent attorneys who, although they could handle the management and practice development demands of being solo, ended up returning to a traditional firm in large part to reconnect with fellow attorneys.

Unfortunately for them, however, reconnecting with attorneys in law firms also means reconnecting with all the negative aspects of the traditional law firm model that they sought to escape when they left in the first place.

Thus begins the “yo-yo” effect that many of my independent-minded colleagues and I have experienced. We leave firms and launch a solo practice because we want more independence and economic control. Over months or years, however, the loneliness causes us to fatigue, making us vulnerable for the siren song of a law firm. Of course, our “new” firm is so different from other firms – we are sure to be happy there, right?  After the honeymoon, however, we soon remember why we left in the first place (economic inequity, politics, bureaucracy, power-plays, pettiness, mismanagement, pressure, etc.), and we long for our independence once again.

 Are we destined to always be somewhere in the Yo-Yo? Or should we just accept the yoke of the firm? Or the isolation of the solo practice. Seems we lose either way.

 A number of innovative law firms have created business models which are hybrids of the traditional solo/law firm models. By reducing shared overhead to a bare minimum while still allowing for collaboration and leveraging of partners, these firms may have “cracked the code” and created the solution independent-minded attorneys have long been searching for.

SOLO START-UP GUIDE

So you’ve decided to leave the law firm life behind and launch your own practice.

Congratulations! Now what?

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For independent-minded lawyers, launching a solo practice can be very fulfilling and may just be the key to your personal and professional happiness. Unfortunately, it can also be very intimidating, frustrating, and overwhelming. After all, nothing in law school, nor in the practice of law, really prepares attorneys to be CEOs of businesses.

Have a Plan

One lesson lawyers can learn from other start-up companies is the importance of developing a business plan. There are a number of templates available on the web, but the most important thing to do is just have one. It doesn’t have to be SBA-loan ready or consist of 50 pages of graphs and charts. It does need to clearly define your purpose, mission, start-up needs, marketing plan, business management plan, and financial plan.

While every practice and situation will require some special nuances and considerations, there are a few key areas that all new independent practitioners must address as they develop their business plans, namely: workspace, equipment, business development, training, mentoring, and business management.

Workspace & Equipment

Technology has made the physical equipment demands on an independent practice fairly low. Essentially, all an attorney needs to practice law effectively is a computer, internet access, a smartphone, and basic office machines like a printer and scanner.

However, an attorney – particularly one who represents business clients – also needs secure and professional workspace to meet clients, conduct conferences, receive guests, and accept mail/parcels, etc.

When I launched my own solo practice more than a dozen years ago, I had four main options for workspace: get my own office lease, go to an executive suite, sublease from another firm, or work from home.

Each option has its pros and cons, and at various points I’ve used all four options in my years as an independent lawyer. However, none of those options really provided the business image, security, services, or resources that I needed in my business law practice. Here’s a breakdown of the key pros and cons of each:

Office Lease. Signing a lease for space can provide a secure and professional environment, but it can be cost-prohibitive and onerous to sign multi-year leases and then pay for rent, deposits, furniture, phone, internet, office equipment, and office supplies. Plus, as a solo, you will be all alone in that office; you’ll have no one with whom to collaborate, fix the printer, or help with marketing initiatives.

Executive Suite. Executive suites can be more cost-effective in terms of start-up costs for a solo, but a typical executive suite will not provide the business image or secure space needed by business attorneys.  Mail is often simply placed in a folder or open cubbies, and fellow tenants are not attorneys.

Firm Sublease. Subleasing space from a law firm will likely present a better, more secure professional image than an executive suite. However, the fact that your firm is legally separate from the larger firm has some security and confidentiality implications, not to mention having to explain to your clients and guests why some other firm’s name is on the door. Moreover, law firms are subject to changes such as firm splits, additions of new attorneys, etc., that could adversely affect your ability to use the space.

Home Office.  Working from home is certainly one of the most cost-effective workspace options for independent attorneys; but, it doesn’t provide the professional image business attorneys need, doesn’t provide the access to conference and meeting space, nor does it provide other attorneys for networking and collaboration. Home-office attorneys typically try to avoid meeting clients and prospects at their homes and often use public spaces like coffee shops (and their extremely vulnerable public wi-fi) to work and meet.

As of 2019 – ENGAGE. Engage is the region’s first working clubhouse designed exclusively for partner-level attorneys and litigators. Other industries have adopted incubator and co-working concepts, but for a number of reasons, these office space innovations were not embraced by attorneys. Thus, despite all the innovations in technology and in the marketplace that have made an independent law practice more feasible and effective than ever before, workspace has not evolved at all.   Engage represents that long-overdue evolution in independent attorney workspace.

Client Development

While traditional marketing and advertising options can be helpful to lawyers, most independent attorneys generate new work through personal relationships and networking. For business attorneys, the most reliable source of quality new client referrals is other business attorneys. As such, networking is a critical element of any independent attorney’s business plan.

The difficulties, however, include making time for networking and networking efficiently. The most logical activities would be those which involve other business attorneys such as seminars, outings, and happy hours hosted by bar associations and sections, alumni groups, etc. Attending these events can be taxing, both in terms of time and money.

Engage’s robust network of independent, partner-level, business attorneys is a leap forward in terms of creating an efficient and effective network. Plugging into this network can dramatically accelerate your law practice and client development.

Training and Mentoring

Law is not practiced in a vacuum. Like networking, discussed above, independent attorneys need access to mentors and colleagues to share ideas, referrals, collaborations, and joint ventures. When we were part of a law firm, a network of mentors and sounding boards was built in.  As independent attorneys, however, we must look elsewhere to build a network of like-minded peers with whom to collaborate.

In addition, all attorneys need CLE training each year. While there are a number of resources, CLE training can be expensive, time-consuming, and inconvenient.

Moreover, independent attorneys aren’t just lawyers; we are also CEOs of start-up businesses. Nothing in law school nor law practice has prepared us for this role. As such, without training and guidance, we are likely to make expensive and time-consuming mistakes.  Of course, we could outsource much of this to vendors, but who? How do we find them?

Engage Members can access our network of fellow solo lawyers to ask questions, share ideas, brainstorm solutions and strategies, and collaborate and joint on projects and joint ventures. Plus, many Engage Members are seasoned solos who can provide critical mentorship to newly independent practitioners.

Business Management

The law firm uses its larger pool of resources (i.e., a percentage of your collections as well as those of your colleagues) to hire in-house or contractor experts to handle software, IT, marketing, insurance, accounting, and other business matters of the firm.  In a newly-minted solo practice however, chances are economic forces will dictate that you will be handling a lot of the technology, facilities, bookkeeping, and management duties yourselves – all while you’re out networking to generate new business and making time to log a few billable hours now and then as well.

These challenges are not insurmountable, but they can be money and time-consuming. Just the sheer volume of the items you must address can be quite intimidating.

That said, accessing Engage’s network of experienced independent attorneys, as well as our network of vetted service providers, will help you effectively address business management issues and locate trusted service providers who can handle many of these tasks to help you get back to practicing law.

Lawyers-Only Executive Suite and Co-Working Space Opens in Dallas

One of Dallas’ newest executive suite and co-working concepts is targeting a unique niche market:  lawyers. 

The concept, called ENGAGE Workspace for Lawyers(or “Engage”) opened January 1st and at capacity will provide over sixty attorneys with work and meeting space, office equipment and amenities, and even networking and training opportunities. 

Engage is a new concept that implements elements of executive suites, co-working spaces, law offices, business Incubators/accelerators, and even country clubs. Engage creates a secure and professional office environment that business attorneys need to effectively work, meet clients, share office resources, and network with a community of partner-level peers that practice in other legal fields. 

According to Engage CEO Chelsea Green, “Independent attorneys and small law firms represent nearly half the legal industry.  With continuing market changes and technology advances, that looks to accelerate over the next several years.”

“Typical office options for independent attorneys and small law firms lack the services and amenities that attorneys need,” she adds.  “With Engage, we have created an office environment that has the familiarity of a traditional law office, but with the greater independence, flexibility and efficiency of an executive suite or co-working space. It’s a true ‘plug and play’ model with a high level of service and amenities without the administrative headaches for attorneys.”

Although only recently open, Engage is almost full; only a few private offices are still available.  The space is set to undergo a small remodel this spring to add a handful of new offices and create a swanky new coffee lounge and collaborative meeting area.

Green co-founded Engage with attorneysDarin Klemchukand Jim Chester, who are partners in Dallas-based business and technology law firm, Klemchuk LLP.

 “Attorneys are a perfect fit for the Engage office space model,” says Chester.  “Law practice is collaborative by nature, and attorneys benefit from networking with other lawyers to share referrals and resources.”

Engage offers private offices ranging from small interior offices to large window offices over 300 square feet.  In addition, Engage offers virtual offices to those attorneys who merely need an address and occasional place to meet with clients or get some work done. All levels of membership provide access to the receptionist, conference space, internet, mail/parcel handling, free parking, a coffee bar, and copiers/scanners.

Engage is implementing a number of measures to address privacy and confidentiality for attorneys and their clients. 

“Creating a secure & professional space for attorneys is critical,” declares Klemchuk. “We built Engage to ensure that attorneys and their clients and guests feel confident that they can work and communicate effectively within the space.”

Engage occupies over 16,000 square feet covering an entire floor at Campbell Center at Northwest Highway and Central Expressway across from SMU and North Park Mall. This location is convenient to downtown courts, as well as Uptown, Park Cities, Preston Hollow, Lake Highlands, Lakewood and other neighborhoods where a large number of attorneys live, and the location is easy to access for attorneys and their clients located in Collin County, as well.

Engage was represented in its lease negotiations by Stephen Holley of Holley + Company Real Estate, and Campbell Centre was represented by Barbara Houlihan of Peloton Commercial Real Estate.