As with many of the choices that lawyers are faced with in modern practice, selecting an office space yields a plethora of options – perhaps even an overwhelming number. Do you acquire a traditional lease? How about a virtual office? A co-working space? Or, do you just stay home? Fortunately, Wes Walker, of Intelligent Office – Boston, has provided us the following guest blog post, in order to offer some insight into the question of where to work. (No, that’s NOT Wes Welker, which I found out the hard way.)
Intelligent Office – Boston is located at 265 Franklin Street. To arrange a tour, call (617) 963-5280. You can follow Intelligent Office – Boston on Facebook or Twitter. In addition to offering physical space solutions, Intelligent Office – Boston also provides a la carte business services.
LOMAP clients get a 50% discount on virtual services for the first three months of a 12 month agreement, when they sign on with Intelligent Office – Boston; call Wes and his team for further details.
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The traditional law office has been with us at least since Berytus began cranking out scholars of Roman law circa 250 AD. For nearly two thousand years, the choice was relatively simple for newly-minted attorneys, who didn’t join an existing law firm: locate a traditional, physical lease.
Since at least the early 1990s, as enabled by tremendous technological advances, the number and variety of office choices for attorneys has exploded. Some of the more common types of office arrangements are as follows:
Traditional Office Lease. This represents a large, blank slate. In order to fit the leased space to your needs, you’ll often have to do some construction, install telephone/data infrastructure, decorate, furnish and staff the office. While year-to-year arrangements are available, many high-end lease contracts have a term of 5 to 10 years, and require substantial security deposits. Lease contracts require a thorough review before signatures are applied.
Shared Office Space. This option typically includes a fully furnished office, with all of the required infrastructure. Individual private offices, or workspaces, can be rented, and can be used on a part-time basis. The availability of ancillary services can vary widely.
Co-working Space. This is a relatively new type of arrangement, that can be especially appealing to startups. These casual, contemporary spaces are usually open work environments, with limited privacy in common areas – though, options exist to use available private spaces by sign-up or for an additional charge.
Virtual Office. The typical virtual office will offer private offices and conference rooms on an hourly or daily basis, and will include all necessary office infrastructure and related services, including a mailbox, dedicated telephone number and a receptionist. Additional services are available on an a la carte basis, or through alternative service packages. Some virtual offices will also provide administrative (and, in the case of lawyers, paralegal) support.
Given all of these options, the obvious question is: Where do you start? Resist the temptation to immediately pick up the phone and call office providers. Instead, start with yourself. It’s your law practice, and it’s your life. What do you want your law firm to look like in five years, in ten years? What’s your plan to get there? Don’t have a plan? Make one – a LOMAP consultant can be a great resource. Careful thought and planning at the early stages of your practice can save a great deal of expense down the road.
Your business plan will drive many of your decisions, and will inform your choice of office solutions. But, here are some key considerations:
Geographic Location. Will your clients need to visit your office in-person? If so, where are your target clients located? Is the location you’re considering easily accessible to them? How will your clients get to your office – will they use public transportation, or will they require parking? Once there, will they be able to take the stairs, or will you need to make an elevator available for them?
Image. Does the office project the appropriate professional image for your target market? Are you serving low-income clients in debt collection matters, or high-income, corporate clients? How will your clients (and your prospective clients) be treated when they call your office, or when they arrive in-person?
Personal Workflow. Some lawyers are comfortable doing most of their work from a home office, while others need to get out of the house, in order to work productively. Make sure that your office choice accommodates your preferences for work and lifestyle.
Ancillary Services. The office isn’t only about the physical space anymore. Moreover, everything a lawyer once did to staff and operate a traditional law office is now available on a virtual basis.
To that end, some ancillary services to consider are:
Virtual Mail. Lawyers can pick up mail and acquire the address of a prestigious office building through a non-traditional space arrangement. This can be a cost-effective way to place some prestige behind your first office, or for when you add branch offices. Since prospective clients will Google your address to see where you’re located, you’ll want to think about projecting a more professional image than a P.O. Box would provide.
Virtual Receptionist. Attorneys using their personal smartphones to take business calls are taking a risk. Will reception be consistent? What if a call is answered at home, and the dog starts barking? Attorneys without receptionists are faced with the unenviable choice of interrupting a client meeting to take a call from a prospective client. Not picking up a call the first time may mean that the client moves on to the next attorney prospect on her list. A virtual receptionist can offer a professional first impression, collect information about a prospect and schedule an appointment.
Virtual Assistants and Paralegals. An attorney can access support staff on a regular or part-time basis, without engaging the expense of hiring his own staff. Think about how much your own time is worth; and then consider lost revenue opportunities, when you don’t delegate work properly, and force yourself into performing administrative tasks – which, when taken in the aggregate, may force you to refuse cases you would have had the time to take, if you had just utilized effective support services.
Scalability. An office solution that works for a law practice in years 1-3 may be completely unworkable in years 5-8. If you didn’t figure on the kind of growth you achieved, you may have to move your office, and change your address and phone number – that can be extremely disruptive. Make a seamless path for the growth of your office.
Budget. Budget matters — especially when you’re just starting out. However, you can’t be afraid to spend in the short-term, in return for long-term gain. What if you don’t use a virtual receptionist, miss a call and lose a potentially lucrative client?
Now that you have all the key considerations in mind, make a summary sheet listing all of your primary requirements for office space. This list will form the basis for your due diligence process. You can perform your initial research online. Keep notes about each promising location you identify. Different offices will package and price their services in different ways, so try to get everything on an apples-to-apples basis, so that you can make direct comparisons later.
Once you execute your list of requirements, take these final four steps, to effectuate your choice:
-Make a short list of the office providers that meet your key requirements.
-Visit each location on your short list, in-person. Make sure you are comfortable with the location address, the physical space, the staff and the other spaceholders.
-Get references from other spaceholders (preferably other attorneys), who are using services similar to those you envision using.
-Search for reviews of the providers online, and weigh the results.
Now, you can choose your office space with confidence!
Guest Post: Office Space Choices for the Solo or Small Law Firm
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