For several years, I’ve enthusiastically supported co-working as an attractive office option for solos. Working alongside others not only mitigates the isolation of solo practice but offers demonstrated financial benefits: bar studies show that lawyers in shared space earn more than lawyers who work from home or in stand-alone offices. At the same time, co-working is more affordable than traditional full-time office space or many corporate virtual office arrangements and thus enables newer or cash-strapped solos to enjoy the benefits of shared space without substantial overhead.
But this recent post by Posse CEO Rebekah Campbell, for the New York Times You’re the Boss blog of the New York Times, has made me reconsider whether co-working space is right for everyone — particularly lawyers….
In her post, Campbell recounts some of the factors that took the shine off her co-working experience:
Too much noise even in designated quiet spaces – including lots of loud bragging and showmanship;
Too many “wannabes” – co-workers with no real business but who nonetheless constantly intruded on other tenants to pitch an idea or partner up on a project;
The perks of the co-working space – such as early evening bands or happy hours – eventually became distractions and often forced tenants to clear out early and
Open space also allowed companies to keep watch on competitors’ activity and attempt to duplicate work or poach employees.
Many of the co-working drawbacks cited by Campbell are also concerns for solos and smalls in shared space – where noise, lack of privacy and constant interruption could interfere with professional and ethical service to clients. Still, the drawbacks to co-working space aren’t insurmountable — and indeed, several commenters on Campbell’s post pointed out that other co-working spaces might have offerings that better matched Campbell’s personality and needs.
Likewise, there are ample opportunities to create co-working spaces to serve the unique needs of attorneys. Currently, there are some private companies with lawyer-specific space offerings. For example, New-York based Law Firm Suites, which offers traditional office space for lawyers as well as networking and referral opportunities, comes to mind as one of the more established players in the office-space sector. Newer entrants include Law Bank in Denver, Colorado, and Atlanta-based Attorney Office Space.
Still, lawyer-focused co-working spaces can be costlier to set up than traditional co-working spaces due to the need for professional-looking digs and adequate private space. Thus, it may take time for the private sector to keep pace. In the meantime, and to fill the need for affordable space for new solos, why don’t the state and local bar associations follow the lead of the Denver Bar Association and create co-working space for members?
Co-working provides an attractive financial opportunity for bar associations, which are currently experiencing a decline in membership. No wonder either, as cash-strapped lawyers count every penny and social media and the Internet have displaced some of the bar association’s traditional networking functions by facilitating lawyer interaction through do-it-yourself networking groups. Yet bar associations could generate additional revenues by offering a co-working option, for an additional fee, as a benefit of membership. A co-working space would also create a myriad of sponsorship opportunities for vendors and malpractice insurers, thus adding another stream of revenue as well. True, bar associations may not currently have adequate space to set up a co-working facility, but they do have access to a pool of members to collect funds to launch a new space.
Ultimately, just as co-working presents a win-win for lawyers, starting a co-working space is a win-win for the bar associations: a chance to provide a meaningful service to members while generating revenue as well. Whether bar associations will accept the challenge remains to be seen.
Do you think bar-sponsored lawyer co-working spaces are a good idea, or is this something that only the private sector can or should carry out? Please share your views on this question as well as your thoughts on co-working in the comment section below.
Why I Ditched My Co-Working Space [You're the Boss / New York Times]
Carolyn Elefant has been blogging about solo and small firm practice at MyShingle.com since 2002 and operated her firm, the Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant PLLC, even longer than that. She’s also authored a bunch of books on topics like starting a law practice, social media, and 21st century lawyer representation agreements (affiliate links). If you’re really that interested in learning more about Carolyn, just Google her. The Internet never lies, right? You can contact Carolyn by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @carolynelefant.