Today, we ask: Is coworking a good office alternative for lawyers? And we receive a definitive answer from our attorneys…
What is coworking?
Coworking is when professionals, not necessarily employed by the same organization, share a physical work environment. Any shared law office space is technically coworking. For attorneys, the benefits that come with coworking typically include a steady stream of referrals and saving legal research time via asking an experienced colleague a practice question when it comes up. Coworking also describes a type of office space where the act of coworking happens. Coworking spaces are generally large, airy rooms with a more casual feel than traditional office space. Think ‘Last Supper’ style tables and chairs, clever decor, white board walls, lots of coffee and sometime beer.
Is coworking a good office alternative for lawyers?
Lawyers have been successfully coworking in shared office spaces long before the term “coworking” became popular. In urban areas like New York or DC where commercial rents are high, small firm lawyers are often relegated to coworking out of economic necessity. For many lawyers, it may be the only means to secure office space. If chosen carefully, multi-professional coworking centers may also be a viable workplace for attorneys, particularly those who primarily work from home but want an inexpensive, professional workplace to use from time to time. Coworking centers are often geared towards different business cultures. For example, one coworking center may attract Gen Y Internet start-up entrepreneurs while others may be designed for 40-something service professionals, such as accountants or consultants. Attorneys, who tend to work best in quiet, private environments, will want to look for a coworking space that is more like a law library than coffee shop.
Why coworking with other attorneys is more profitable for lawyers than multi-professional spaces.
Sometimes attorneys have reservations about coworking with other attorneys. After all, if you’re a B-to-B attorney, isn’t it better to work in a space that has other businesses who can potentially hire you than other attorneys who may compete with you? As it turns out, the opposite is true: It may seem counterintuitive, but lawyers tend to do much better at generating referrals when coworking exclusively with other attorneys.
This was certainly the case with patent attorney and Law Firm Suites’ client, Henry Cittone. Cittone’s firm, Cittone & Chinta, represents multi-national corporations, small and medium sized entities, national scientific institutes and funded start-ups in intellectual property matters. They rented their first office in a Manhattan coworking facility. When choosing a location for their first office, Cittone came to the same logical conclusion as many attorneys: why not put your office where your target clients will be? And as many attorneys eventually discover, the strategy didn’t quite work for Cittone & Chinta. Says Cittone: “We initially chose a technology heavy coworking center thinking that our firm should share office space with our target clients who would eventually hire our services. It was supposed to be a no-brainer, like shooting fish in a barrel.” “While the social aspects of being in a multi-professional coworking facility were beneficial, we found that many of our neighbors had different work habits and kept very different schedules than lawyers,” Cittone continued. Ultimately, this made it challenging for the lawyers in Cittone’s firm to connect with their office mates on a professional level or to establish the rapport required for a strong referral relationship. Claims Cittone, “When we did establish rapport, it seemed that many of our coworking office mates were not necessarily seeking our firm to represent them, but seeking our firm to provide free legal advice.” In May 2012 Cittone moved to Law Firm Suites’ all-lawyer co-working space. Since then:
- He has leveraged the all-lawyer community into several new of-counsel relationships.
- He increased his firm’s size from 2 to 5 attorneys;
- He has received $30,000 in referral income; and
- He has been able to co-counsel on many client matters with other shared law office attorneys, increasing the firm’s scope of representation allowing them to retain more clients.