Subletting an empty office from another law firm is the most common office rental solution for NYC solos. Avoiding common pitfalls will ensure a great experience.
Subleasing empty office space from another law firm is the most common way solos in major cities like NYC get office space. Often, you don’t have to make a long term commitment and the office may include some of the things needed to run a firm, like furniture, internet, copy machines and phones.
But unlike a commercial landlord or executive suite operator, a law firm is not “in the business” of managing professional office space. It can be challenging to get the information needed to pick a great space.
Here are the most common pitfalls to avoid:
1. Not planning for a slow response
The most difficult part of subleasing a new office is scheduling a tour. If the person managing the suite is lawyer, they may be difficult to track down.
Unreturned phone calls are commonplace. If you do connect with someone, many times the first (and only) point of contact will be the firm’s receptionist, who may not be able to answer any questions without first checking with the partner in charge.
Scheduling a time to see the office may require some back and forth if the partner has a busy calendar.
Don’t take it personally, it has nothing to do with you. Just imagine yourself in the same position: you’re juggling clients and firm admin and court appearances and marketing, and on top of that you need to squeeze in time for office tours. Other things take priority in a busy law practice.
Subleasing office space from a law firm may not be a quick process, so try to leave plenty of time in advance of your move date to get your tours done and negotiate a favorable deal.
2. Not being prepared with questions to ask the sublessor firm
Lawyers are not office managers or salesmen. Setting up an appointment to tour an office space can be time consuming, and spending time talking to you means lost billable time for them.
The lawyers you may encounter on a tour of subleased office space may be abrupt, direct or rushed, and in the hurry, you may forget to get all the information you need to make a sound choice.
By preparing questions in advance, you can make sure you get the all the information you need to make an informed decision.
Here are some suggestions:
- Are there any special rules I should be aware of?
- What other expenses would I be expected to pay?
- How many attorneys sublet office space and what type of law do they practice?
- How long have the other sublet attorneys been in the suite?
- How do I schedule conference room time?
- Ask to see all the conference rooms and other equipment you will have access to, like the copy/fax machines, filing spaces etc.
- When can I access the building or suite?
- What are the HVAC hours?
- What kind of bandwidth/redundancy does the office have?
- Who manages the space, who do I go to if you have a problem?
- Will the receptionist answer my phone or greet my guests?
- Can I get signage?
3. Not knowing the firm’s plans for the future
Moving a law practice is expensive and time consuming. It’s not something you want to be doing often. Most attorneys want to stay in a sublet office for at least a year (or longer), so it is essential to know the law firm’s plans for the future.
There are three main reasons law firms sublease office space.
- An entrepreneurial firm firm takes on more space than it needs with the express intention of running a shared legal suite. Subtenants helps offset the sublessor firm’s costs and everyone gets a nicer office space.
- A law firm took on more space than it needs with the anticipation of growing into the additional space over time. Extra offices are subleased to solos until they are needed.
- A law firm has downsized and has time left over on their lease. They need to sublease extra offices to help pay their rent obligations until the end of the lease term.
For most solos, the first scenario is the best. The law firm has made a business out of subleasing office space, so it’s not likely you will be asked to leave.
The last two options are more challenging. If the law firm in the second scenario gets busy, or if the firm in the third scenario has financial problems, you may be asked to leave your new office space. For these situations, you want to understand why the law firm is subleasing office space, and what their plans are for the future.A great deal on a sublet can be a budget buster once you factor in hidden fees. Click To Tweet
4. Not finding out the total cost of the office
Many firms advertise sublease rents that seem like a good deal. But when you dig deeper, there may be additional monthly expenses that are not included in rent.
These could include:
- Fees for reception services.
- Purchasing a specific style and brand of office furniture.
- Fixed fees to use a copy machine or heavily marked up per page fees.
- Unsatisfactory internet bandwidth may require you to purchase your own services.
- Fees for phone services.
- Fees for offices services, like the water cooler or cleaning, could be allocated to everyone in the office, regardless of use.
- Unfair conference room policies could require you to rent per-diem space.
Law firms are notorious for charging odd fees to subtenants. Sometimes the fees are incidental, other times a great rate can quickly become a budget buster.
5. Not considering what your clients’ experience will be in the office suite
The place where you maintain your law office space should reflect your personal brand. Think about what your clients’ experience might be like in the suite.
Some law office spaces are set up so any firm in the space appears to be the main tenant. In other office suites, it will be clear to clients that your firm is subleasing space.
Consider the availability of door and building signage. Will you firm be permitted to maintain signage? Will you be listed in the building directory? Will signage be as prominent as any other firm in the suite? Will your client be confused when they arrive at the building or suite?
For some law practices, these things affect a client’s experience. For others, it may not matter.When subleasing an office from a law firm, consider your clients’ experience first Click To Tweet
Sometimes a sublessor firm provides services that will be performed by their staff. This may include reception services, IT, or the help of an office manager.
Pay careful attention to the way the staff treats you. If they are unfriendly, rude or unprofessional to you, they will not do any better with your clients. In a sublease situation, many times a client’s first impression of your firm will be made by your landlord’s staff. Make sure your clients will have a positive experience.