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.
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:
- 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.
- 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 $10,000 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.
- 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.