Choosing Office Space on a Budget

For many law firms, office rent is the biggest item in the budget other than payroll. But technology has made it easier than ever to set up a law practice without the overhead of a full time Class A office space. Here’s a review of some options.

The Home Office. Solos in particular have had success with a simple home office setup. It is certainly inexpensive, and it can work well if you have a practice that doesn’t require on-site support staff or frequent client meetings. Appellate lawyers and business attorneys who can schedule meetings at coffee shops or their clients’ places of business are examples of practice areas that might function well with a home office.

The Home Office + Virtual Office. Virtual office space providers can give you a business mailing address, receptionist service, and a conference room for client meetings. You’ll project a professional image, and clients won’t realize that you don’t have a permanent office in the building. This sort of arrangement may work well for lawyers who meet with clients regularly but don’t need a full office staff, or for lawyers who have a permanent space but want satellite offices where they can meet with clients from an additional geographic area.

Coworking Spaces. Coworking spaces can offer a range of options, from a temporary or permanent desk in a common area to a dedicated office space. Many also have conference rooms available and provide shared access to copiers and other office resources. Coworking spaces tend to be collegial and may be a good option for a solo or a firm that wants to keep overhead low and maximize networking opportunities.

Shared Office Suites. Lawyers can rent furnished office space in buildings that offer shared conference rooms, kitchens, copiers, and receptionist services. Or a law firm can rent unused space in another firm’s offices, allowing the two firms to share equipment and possibly some support staff. Shared office suites may come with shorter term commitments than a traditional office lease, making them a good first office for a law firm unsure of its ultimate size or cash flow.

A Traditional Office Lease. A traditional office lease can give you more space for lawyers and staff. You can choose a location close to clients or the courthouse. You may be able to negotiate to build out your space in the configuration you want, and you may get concessions from the landlord for things like new carpet. But a traditional office lease also comes with risks. Office leases are typically for a period of years, and if your firm does not have established cash flow and credit, you will likely be asked to sign a personal guarantee on the lease.

When deciding on the office space that’s best for your firm, you must consider your budget, the amount of space you need for lawyers, staff and files, and the image you want to project. If you are not sure which municipality you want to be in, investigate whether you will pay more local taxes or fees in one place than another.

Also consider things like ease of parking and accessibility to public transportation. Corporate clients might expect high end offices, but your criminal law clientele might be more comfortable in a simpler office on a bus line. Elder law clients might need handicapped parking and a wheelchair ramp. If your practice requires frequent trips to court, an office near the courthouse may save on travel time and expenses.