Beyond Cheap Rent: 5 Game Changing Benefits for Solos in Shared Lawyer Office Space

By Stephen Furnari - July 20, 2015
Beyond Cheap Rent: 5 Game Changing Benefits for Solos in Shared Lawyer Office Space

In addition to lower cost and sharing referrals, here are 5 lesser known benefits of shared lawyer office space that will make a huge difference for small firm practitioners.

I was recently a guest on the Reboot Your Law Practice Podcast with criminal defense attorney Scott Limmer and commercial litigator Oscar Michelen.

We were discussing something that we all agreed strongly about: small firm attorneys do better when they share office space with other lawyers.

In fact Scott, who is a solo, rents shared lawyer office space from Oscar’s firm in Mineola, New York. So these guys know a thing or two about the subject.

Of course we touched upon the two most obvious benefits: Sharing space reduces costs for everyone, and there’s the possibility for cross referrals.

But after sharing space with other attorneys for more than a decade, for my practice, that’s just been the tip of the iceberg.

On the podcast, Scott, Oscar and I chatted about some of these other benefits (which you can listen to here if you are interested):

Co-counseling allows you to keep more cases and broaden your skills.

If you’re a small firm attorney (especially if you’re a solo), you know what you know.

How many times have you landed a matter where you can handle some of the work, but don’t have the expertise (or bandwidth) to handle the whole thing?

This happened to a solo I know. He landed a substantial real estate litigation case and just didn’t have the manpower to handle it without losing all his other clients.

It was a WHALE of a case, and while lucrative in the short term, he was afraid that by the time it was over he would have lost all his other clients.

He ended up losing the case to another firm that had a few more attorneys.

On the other hand, another attorney I know, a solo employment lawyer, also landed a monster case. This was the type of case where, if successful, she would have the financial bandwidth to afford the resources needed to level-up her practice.

Similar to the real estate lawyer, the employment lawyer did not have the bandwidth to handle this big of a case. The difference is, instead of giving the case away, this lawyer teamed up with a group of hard core trial lawyers that she met in her shared lawyer office space. She co-counseled with them to get the through the trial (essentially like a group of hired guns).

Though she had to split a portion of the contingency fee with the trial firm, she never lost control over the client. Her firm remained the litigation lead and primary point of contact for the client.

This ensured that the relationship she cultivated with her client during the many months leading up to trial was not disrupted by any other firm. It also locked her in for this client’s referrals in the future.

Additionally, this attorney picked up some stellar skills from the trial gurus, improving her own marketability.

Whether you have a transactional or litigation practice, sharing office space with attorneys in complementary practice areas gives you the option to work with suitemates to service client matters that are outside your expertise. It also helps you retain primary control over client relationships, reducing the possibility of another firm poaching that piece of business.

Over time, this makes a huge, cumulative difference for the small firm practitioner.

Shared office space reduces malpractice risk.

When you co-counsel with other attorneys you have the benefit of knowing what you don’t know. But perhaps the most dangerous place for an attorney to be is not knowing what you don’t know.

It’s in that space where you run the risk of committing malpractice

In the process of growing a law practice, ambitious small firm practitioners constantly push the limits of their skills. It’s not uncommon to find yourself working on a case where you don’t know what you don’t know.

In a shared lawer office space, shop talk is a constant topic of conversation. Inevitably, you will end up chatting with a neighbor about a case you are working on, particularly if it is outside your comfort zone.

It’s difficult (if not dangerous) to practice law in isolation every day Click To Tweet

After all, using other lawyers as a sounding board is critical to successful practice, and why it’s very difficult (if not dangerous) to practice in isolation every day.

Many times those other lawyers will pick up on things you may be missing, or just be a second “gut check” that inspires you to find more experienced co-counsel (or at least do a little more research).

These daily interactions, which often times are more social than business, end up reducing your exposure to malpractice risk.

I have been the beneficiary of this kind of advice over the years. And while I’m not going to terminate my PLI coverage any time soon, it’s comforting to know that my suitemates have my back.

Learning by watching others.

In my first associate job, I worked for a start-up law firm that went on to be hugely successful.

My office was sandwiched in between two of the name partners, and the walls were really, really thin. The partners were on the phone all day, and I heard every second of every conversation.

At the time I found it to be distracting. But in retrospect, I learned more about building a law practice, managing clients, closing deals, selling and negotiating than I did in my next two jobs at more prestigious (at the time) firms.

That experience was a big reason why I felt comfortable starting a solo practice doing complex corporate transactions less than four years out of law school.

Watching how other lawyers work is a very powerful professional development tool. And it’s not something that needs to be formal.

Working alongside other talented lawyers in a shared law suite will dramatically improve your skills. You will see what works exceedingly well for some lawyers, and what habits makes you cringe.

The end result is that, no matter your experience level, your skills will constantly improve when you surround yourself with other attorneys.

The X-Factor of shared lawer office space.

Ask anyone who sails this question: “What do you call two boats sailing in the same general direction?” They will all give you the same answer: “A race.”

Like sailors, lawyers are a similarly competitive bunch. The competitive drive of attorneys who share office space will actually push them to be as successful as the best lawyers in the suite.

Here’s how it generally happens:

Lawyers will naturally size up the other successful attorneys in the suite.

Often they’ll say to themselves, even subconsciously, “you know, there’s no reason I can’t be as successful as that other guy, there’s nothing that impressive about them that I don’t have”. The friendly competition pushes these lawyers to play a bigger game, resulting in faster revenue growth.

The X-Factor for #solos: Friendly competition among #SharedLawOffice suitemates Click To Tweet

Given the large number of attorneys that work from our suite we have the benefit of seeing this happen over and over. But you don’t have to rent an office in a professionally managed law suite like ours to benefit from X-Factor. A law firm sublet like Oscar & Scott’s setup would work just as well.

I know this because the same thing happend to my law practice when I moved from a workstation rental in an office suite with non-lawyers, to a shared law office sublet with five other attorneys.

Within a year I doubled my firm’s revenues. Much of that growth was simply attributable my drive to be as successful as the more experienced lawyers in the suite.

The vast resources of the collective saves valuable time.

One of the single best benefits of being employed by a bigger firm was being able to walk down the hall to pick the brain of a more experienced practitioner, or see if a colleague had a resource I needed to get a job done.

You don’t realize the value of that network until you don’t have it any more.

Sharing office space with other attorneys replicates this resource very well.

It’s incredibly valuable when you need that random form for Queens Supreme, civil term and your neighbor has it. Or you need access to a treatise, and not only does your suitemate lend it to you, but they point you to the exact location in the book that you need.

This resource saves small firm practitioners dozens of hours a year that can be used to bill more time, or simply take a few extra hours off to spend with family.

I’m a huge fan of shared lawyer office space because it has made a meaningful difference in my own law practice.

And I’ve witnessed it work for other attorneys too.

Take Oscar and Scott.

The whole Reboot Your Law Practice podcast was inspired by their informal conversations about positioning a law firm in today’s increasingly challenging marketplace; conversations that might not have otherwise taken place if they didn’t share office space.

Great things come from sharing space with other great attorneys.

What about you? What great things have you been able to accomplish with your suitemates in shared law office space?
An Insider's Guide: How to Rent the Perfect Law Office

About Stephen Furnari

Stephen Furnari is a self-employed corporate attorney and the founder of Law Firm Suites, the operator of coworking spaces for law firms. Through Law Firm Suites, Furnari has helped hundreds of attorneys launch and grow successful law practices. He is the author of several eBooks, including “7 Deadly Mistakes that Prevent Law Practice Success” and “An Insider’s Guide to Renting the Perfect Law Office”. Stephen has been featured in the ABA Journal, Entrepreneur, New York Daily News and Crain’s New York. Connect with Stephen on Twitter (@stephenfurnari).

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