Painful setbacks we’ve faced while secret shopping law firm sublets, and how to avoid them.
First off, yes, we at Law Firm Suites routinely secret shop the competition, including law firm sublets. It’s even part of every employee’s training.
We don’t do this to be sleazy or to try and poach clients, we simply want to know what’s out there and what attorneys experience when looking for office space.
This helps us serve our clients better and improve the experience attorneys get when they visit us for the first time.
A few months ago, several Law Firm Suites employees went secret shopping as part of a new hire’s training and we ran into some pretty painful, but common, obstacles.
Here’s a recap of the problems we encountered. Hopefully you’ll be better prepared the next time you’re looking for new office space:
Problem 1: Getting Someone on the Phone
Finding the right person to schedule a tour with was nearly impossible. On our last secret shop trip – for my employee training, incidentally — we had a narrow window of time. I work in Law Firm Suites’ Florida office, and was training in New York for just a few days.
To prepare for our secret shopping trip, we built a list of “available” locations at law firms. Once in New York, we began calling the firms to set up appointments.
We called seven different sublet spaces and, only once, did we reach a human being. The others either never returned our calls, or returned them many days later after I had returned home.
We were hoping to see several different spaces, but because it was so difficult to get the right person on the phone, we were only able to see one. According to my coworkers, this happens a lot.
So what does this mean for you?
If your office search includes sublet office space from other firms, make sure you start your search as soon as possible to account for slow response times.
Problem 2: Scheduling a Timely Appointment
The only person we reached happened to be the firm’s receptionist. While better than getting voicemail, she was not the best person to deal with.
As is the case with most law firm sublets, one of the firm’s partners was in charge of renting their extra office. The receptionist did a good job of answering a few of our questions, but she ultimately needed to transfer us to the partner in charge.
Luckily this person was available.
Typically when we secret shop, getting a decision maker on the phone involves two or three attempts. And remember, we were just trying to schedule an appointment to view the office at this time.
Filling office space isn’t the top priority for most lawyers, so getting a decision maker on the phone can be challenging.
If you call a firm about available office space and the lawyer you need to speak with is unavailable, we recommend that you persistently follow-up until you can schedule a time to tour the space.
If after two or three attempts you still get no return call, consider whether this is a viable option for you. After all, what’s going to happen when there’s a problem in the space and you need to get someone who has the authority to handle it.
Problem 3: Getting People to Show Up for the Viewing at the Scheduled Time
It’s been our experience that lawyers who schedule viewings often forget about their appointments, or are not respectful of your time, making you wait in reception for excessive wait times (30 minutes or longer) while they deal with other matters.
On one secret shop trip, we showed up for our mid-morning viewing only to find the door to the law firm’s suite to be locked.
We knocked repeatedly, but no answer. Curious to see when (or if) the lawyer would show, we waited in the hall for over 30 minutes. No one ever showed.
This doesn’t happen every time, but more often than you’d think.
We’ve found that the best practice is to try to confirm your viewing appointment the day before, and a second time the morning of the tour. Where possible, we try to get the phone number of the lawyer’s assistant or receptionist who is always more accessible to confirm appointments than the the lawyer we are scheduled to meet.
Problem 4: Hard to Get a True Sense of the Total Expense
Figuring out what the all-in expense are for a law firm sublet can be challenging. Often a competitively advertised price is no longer so when you factor in all the extras – which from our experience can be all over the place.
We find that this isn’t a function of the law firm trying to be deceitful, but instead, that they never really gave much thought to ancillary expenses. This is particularly so if the firm is subletting a space for the very first time.
Unless you go prepared to ask all the right questions during your tour, it’s unlikely that you will know your total cost.
This is exactly what happened in our most recent secret shop. The lawyer showing the space pointed out all the amenities in the office, but when it came to costs, he was less clear. If we hadn’t asked about certain costs (that we always ask about), he never would have mentioned them to us.
Here are a few costs you should ask about during a viewing:
- Fees for reception services.
- Do you have to purchase specific office furniture.
- Fixed fees to use a copy machine.
- Fees for phone services.
- Mark-up on postage.
- Fees for offices services, like the water cooler or cleaning.
- Additional cost to use the conference room.
The process of finding, and actually seeing, an available law firm sublet is full of unexpected speed bumps. Hopefully, now that you know about the problems we have encountered, you will be better prepared when the time comes for you to find your next office space.