When you went to law school or started thinking about starting your own practice, did you have dreams of waking up in the morning, walking down the hall to another room in your house and sitting down to do legal work? Did you hope to bounce ideas off of the dog, or plan strategy watching Matlock re-runs at 2 p.m.?
I’m sorry, I just don’t get this “Do I need an office?” back and forth, in which my “future of law” friends are quick to say “You don’t need an office.”
No, you don’t need an office. They’re right. You also don’t need to wear clothes that make you look respectable. You don’t even have to have any idea what you’re doing. You can work from your computer in your dining room, in shorts, and find answers (some which are correct) to questions like “how to draft a will,” on the internet. Some client, somewhere, will hire you. Maybe a few.
As you build your practice, you can do everything small, cheap, and sloppy. Forget about being downtown or by the courthouse. Forget about having to dress like you want to be hired for important legal work. Forget about building anything of significance. Just stay home and be happy that you’re saving money every month on an office. Way to go. Hopefully you won’t take advice from business owners who know building a business takes investment….
Divorce Lawyer Lee Rosen, who writes some great stuff about the practice of law (and won’t be mean to you), has a few posts on this topic.
More than 20 years ago, he quit his law firm job and, as he puts it:
I rented a room in someone else’s office and bought some furniture. I was up and running in 48 hours and off to the races. I worked like crazy chasing after new clients, scrambling to get the work done while figuring out how to deal with the mundane issues of setting up a law practice. It was crazy, exhausting, and exhilarating.
The first year he made $700.
Lee’s not a fan of the virtual law office, where the entire practice is online, but he has created a modified version of a virtual practice, where his firm uses conference space and has no offices.
So before you dive in on the hypocrisy here, understand that Lee started out with a cheap office, built relationships and thus his practice, opened more offices, and then determined that he could be more efficient with physical conference space and no offices. He built something before he made the decision to go without an office.
For those of you that went to a college where you lived on campus the first year, think about how different your experience would be if you didn’t. You built relationships, got to know people, and then moved off campus. You’ve got a few years under your belt and a somewhat established practice, fine – move “off campus.” But to start out without an office is robbing yourself of opportunities to become a part of the greater profession.
Everyday you’re around others, you’re developing relationships, you’re saying hello to other lawyers, other business owners and the public. At some point in your practice, moving away from a business district may be OK, but why start out that way? There are advantages to leaving your house for a few hours a day and being around like-minded people (other than that place where you order complicated coffee and type away with college students.)
An office is a small investment in putting yourself in the middle of the business world, instead of 10 feet from your bedroom. You can’t afford an office? You’re a lawyer, negotiate something. Especially when you’re young, or building a new practice – do what you can to be around people – and real people, not the ones on your computer screen.
But then again, maybe the mailman needs a lawyer.
Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.