This week in Things I Wish I Knew… Joleena Louis reviews her decision making process in deciding to start her solo law practice with a virtual office or a shared law office space.
In deciding to pursue self-employment, the most important decision a solo attorney has to make is when to leave your old firm for your new found freedom.
The second most important decision is whether to start your new solo practice with a virtual office or a physical office.
I went back and forth over this issue for a few months and even asked other attorneys, family and friends their thoughts on the issue. They were absolutely no help to me since half said virtual and half said physical. It was up to me to ﬁgure it out.
Why I thought about using a virtual office:
The main beneﬁt of a virtual ofﬁce for me was cost.
I could get a professional mailing address and access to conference rooms for meeting clients for a very low price. I had enough saved to pay the virtual ofﬁce fee for at least a year. This would be great for me, because it lessened the guilt I have about my husband supporting us while I build my practice.
With a virtual ofﬁce, I could cover my business expenses without his assistance and feel like less of a charity case. As some of the virtual ofﬁce supporters argued, it would be a safe way to “test out the waters” of solo practice without a large ﬁnancial and lease-term commitment. If things didn’t work out, it would be easy to get out of it.
In my mind, as long as I had a place to meet clients when I needed to, a dedicated ofﬁce space would not be necessary.Solo attorney: The main beneﬁt of a virtual ofﬁce for me was cost. Click To Tweet
My big hang-up’s about choosing a virtual office:
My biggest fear about choosing a virtual office was isolation. I studied for the bar at home (I took an online Pieper class) and I became a hermit. I rarely left the house and lived in pajamas. The only person who saw me was my husband.
While I don’t believe having a virtual ofﬁce would be that extreme, I doubt I would go out and socialize and network as much as I would with a physical office.
Also, my office is exclusive to lawyers. I have found that just going to work is a form of networking. Also, just in terms of my own motivation, it’s easier to stop in at a networking event on my way from the ofﬁce than it is to have to actually leave the comfort of my house and go.
Another fear of choosing a virtual office would be the inevitable distractions that arise while working from home.
I decided to work from home today and as I am writing this, my dog jumped on my lap begging for a belly rub and my husband is asking me how much to give our Super for tip since we forgot to give him one over the holidays. And I can’t help but overhear the tv in the other room. It sounded interesting, so I went to check it out.
I can get some work done, but my focus is just not the same as when I am not at home.
Why I chose a shared law office:
There were a lot more pros for me, in a physical ofﬁce.
As a family law practitioner I spend a lot of time in court, but I also have an enormous amount of legal drafting and I really need to focus. Having a dedicated space to go to outside of my home gives me the ability to focus and get more work done.
The commute from my home to my ofﬁce gets me out of personal mode and into business mode. Frankly, the psychological commute is probably more important than the physical commute.
Another huge beneﬁt is the ability to meet other people. The act of going to an ofﬁce everyday forces me to get dressed up and be sociable. So far I’ve gotten several client referrals from other attorneys at Law Firm Suites that I would not have gotten otherwise. And it’s great to have other attorneys around to ask questions, collaborate on cases or just chat with.One of the perks of #sharedlawoffice space is having attorneys around you to chat about cases. Click To Tweet
If I had gone the virtual route when I first became a solo attorney, I don’t believe I would be doing as well as I am right now. And most importantly, having a physical ofﬁce makes having my own practice feel more permanent and real.
With a virtual ofﬁce it would be a lot easier to quietly go away if things didn’t work out. But being in a physical space, I would have to move out, people would have questions and it would be more awkward.
That added pressure of knowing that at minimum I have to be able to take care of my ofﬁce rent is extra motivation to keep pushing harder to bring in clients. And it makes me feel like a “real” lawyer.
The obvious con to a physical ofﬁce is cost. You have to put a deposit and ﬁrst month’s rent. Depending on the space you choose, you may assume the cost of furnishing it. It can get expensive pretty fast and in order to keep your space you have to bring in enough money every month to pay your rent.
For me the physical space was the best choice despite the cost. Not only was it an investment in myself but in my business as well.
Along with getting a dedicated space to focus and work, I am building valuable relationships with the other solo attorneys in my suite, which has led to work for me.
More than anything else going to my physical ofﬁce space is proof to myself that I am succeeding.
Dear Joleena, your write up has actually endorsed my view point also. I have just started to practice again after almost twelve years of working as an in-house counsel for large organizations and faced with the same question. However I made the same decision as you did ultimately after evaluating the pros and cons of virtual office and those of the physical office. No doubt physical office offers more chances of success as compared to the virtual office. Wish you all the best.
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