This week, Jordan Rushie brought up the importance of office space. Carolyn Elefant followed up and noted that affordable office space would be “almost a no-brainer even for a complete newbie.” Unfortunately, even when faced with the example of Jordan’s beautiful yet affordable office space, she brings up a concern that affordable space would be undesirable, noting that “bringing a client to a dingy office that reeks of cigarette smoke and is located in a seedy part of town isn’t exactly going to inspire confidence or generate client referrals.”
Carolyn is in DC. Because of past work I’ve done there, I have a passing familiarity with its office space and haven’t seen it to be drastically different from some of the options available here in New York. If anything, I would think that the smaller buildings in some parts of DC may provide access to additional small-firm appropriate spaces than one could find in NYC.
Before I took a full time position with my current employer, I was working to build my own base of private clients. My work focused on intellectual property issues. I was fortunate enough to have several inventive and energetic entrepreneurs referred to me as clients. Most were happy that I was able to come to them to help work through their issues, but several were also just starting their businesses and had no space. Not having my own offices cost me all but one of those clients. The conference rooms available at the local bar association were inadequate – they were worn out, overbooked and frequently I’d arrive to find them in complete disarray from a discourteous previous user. Asking to meet at Starbucks would have been far too embarrassing.
Even when I didn’t need space to meet with a client, I found it incredibly difficult to get motivated to work in my apartment. Try as I might, I couldn’t replicate the motivation that came with getting out of the house and going to an actual office. Even going to Starbucks and setting up there was dramatically more productive than firing up my laptop and watching the walls close in.
It was at this point that I discovered co-working spaces with private offices. In New York, I became an instant fan of Sunshine Suites, though there are plenty of other options. In DC, some of the spaces seem too focused on an open plan that is unsuitable for the legal work, but others seem to be perfectly reasonable and affordable.
Sunshine Suites focused on modular groupings of high-walled cubicle desks. Many of the services a business needs – reception, copiers, printers, phone systems and such – were already in place and part of the rent. Conference room time was included for client meetings, everyone has private cubicles and locking cabinets, and each grouping has its own locking door. The space I considered had just two desks, so by renting both spaces I could create a semi-private office. For times when more privacy was required, but a full conference room was an overkill – like when making a phone call – each area had clusters of phone booths with plenty of room to set up and work inside. While I’m certainly not a decorator, the space also looked great.
Such an arrangement is certainly different from having a private office, but with a bit of adjustment, it could be quite suitable for a fledgling practice. Also, since co-working facilities are filled with entrepreneurs, the community could serve as a valuable source of business for the right firm.
Also, if you’re looking for space, don’t overlook other law firms who may also have additional space that they are willing to rent or trade. While Carolyn points out an expensive craigslist rental, I’ve known several lawyers who are unable to take on a new employee be more than happy to share space with someone else at a reasonable rate. There can be pitfalls in such an arrangement if the attorneys are not compatible, and it is important to make certain clients are not confused about the relationship, but it can also develop into a relationship where each lawyer helps strengthen and support the others.
Affordable office space exists. Personally, I think the benefits of having an office – even one that might be somewhat nontraditional – outweigh the costs.