Give Me Some Space: Finding the right office digs

  • 31 octobre 2018
  • Chris Chu

Practicing law is one thing. Managing your practice is another. Yet while these two components never stop moving in tandem, the biggest hurdle most small and solo practitioners face, especially at their inception, is also one of the most important considerations: where do I hang my shingle? In this article, I briefly discuss some of the pros and cons of choosing between working offsite, establishing yourself in a non-law environment and opting for a more traditionalized legal service provider.

1. Mobile/Virtual Practice

In this generation, most people know at least one person who lives a nomadic business life. Rather than being chained to a desk or being confined to the four walls of an office, these business professionals trailblaze through an average working day, jumping from coffee shop to library, or conduct intense meetings from the warmth of their sofa. The tools of these marauding elite are as stealthy as they are minimal: laptop, mobile phone and WiFi.  

Apart from the attractiveness of working in your PJs, the obvious positive attributes to this working style start with cost. As a lawyer and small business owner, you are confronted with a barrage of expenses including, licensing fees and insurance premiums. The prospect of lowering the largest overhead, office space, and rolling it into your daily lifestyle expenses is a huge factor for many lawyers in the start-up stage. Additionally, the flexibility afforded to being able to set your own schedule and accommodate personal errands, such as family duties, brings lawyers who want a work-life balance back to the forefront. 

While many businesses have quickly taken on this migratory lifestyle, lawyers are one of the last professions to truly embrace it. The primary reason is simple: overhead. Apart from the fees that are due to keep our practices going, many lawyers require more than a laptop and internet connection. Many specialized fields of practice require physical assets such as computer servers, commercial printers and reference materials that occupy more physical space than your home can offer. If your practice employs more than one person, finding a suitable place or working schedule for your partner, associate or assistant can become an impossible task. 

2. Co-Working Spaces

While shared business centre facilities are not a new phenomenon, companies like WeWork and Regus have been steadily reinventing the concept to fit a larger demographic of working professionals. Within the past decade, a growing number of small firms and solo practitioners have entertained the idea of setting up law practices in shared office spaces with non-law professionals.

One reason for this shift is due to the diverse range of options these companies offer to fit business owners’ social and financial needs. For example, WeWork, a global office provider, offers custom build-out spaces for exclusive use while also offering desk space rentals on a ‘first-come-first-served' basis.  Many co-working companies also have several office locations throughout a given city, enabling businesses to select an office space that fits their price point, prestige factor and clientele location. Finally, an ability to share office space with other professionals, legal and non-legal alike, can produce better networking opportunities.

The drawbacks to setting up a law practice in a shared workspace are subtler. For one, while flexibility in pricing and location are positives, the sheer ‘open door’ policy can sometimes create a transient tenancy culture, especially with locations that host more start-up ventures. Another issue to be cognizant of is confidentiality.  Lawyers have a premiere duty to guard against leaks and privacy issues. The fact that your practice may share walls (or none at all) with non-lawyers, may mean you need to establish more safeguards against accidental leaks and gossip. Unlike traditional office spaces, where locks, partitions and general office culture are built with this consideration in mind, co-working spaces tend to maximize quantity of tenants rather than individualized professional needs. 

3. Law Chambers

While chambers can be considered the most traditional form of office space for lawyers (seriously, only lawyers would coin the term ‘chambers’), they seemingly provide the ‘best of both worlds’ in terms of offering old-world comforts for legal sticklers and modern efficiencies for practices at varying stages of growth. 

Law chambers vary in their spatial options. Some offer a range of membership tiers to their prospective tenants, from only using their mailing address to providing flexible rental agreements for single-day office rentals or exclusive-use office suites. Other chambers may opt for a more traditional style where a prospective firm can rent out a portion of an office unit with an established firm and share in common operating expenses such as secretarial support, internet usage and printing fees. Apart from the flexibility in costs associated with these arrangements, setting up your practice at a law chamber can be vital for mentorship and client sourcing opportunities. Similarly, the ability to share a professionalized office space that caters to legal clientele helps maintain a shared working culture conducive to legal work.

While you may be tempted to rush towards setting up in a law chambers, some negative considerations still avail themselves.  First, the sheer number of office spaces simply built out for lawyers is rather limited when compared against general office suite suppliers or shared-workspace providers. This impacts small and solo firms looking to grow their practices to encompass more staff as there simply might not be enough desk space for a law chambers to offer.  Another downside is the possibility of your law practice being cannibalized by a similar operator. While we’d all like to admit that law is a fairly collegial working culture, at the end of the day, a consumerist approach to offering legal services puts pressures on each firm to double down in salesmanship, possibly creating tensions in tight spaces. If your practice encompasses a litigious aspect, care must also be taken to ensure that confidentiality, privilege and conflict protocol are sufficiently met, especially in instances where opposing counsel are your neighbors. 


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